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Monday, November 16, 2009

Africa still threatened by tobacco, cancer epidemic

By Olayinka Oyegbile

Despite recent enactment of laws to ban smoking in public places in some countries across the African continent, a new report ‘Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smoke free Air’ has raised alarm that 90 percent of Africans are exposed to second hand smoke; a situation in which a non-smoker is made to inhale tobacco smoke thus contracting cancer.
According to the report, which was released at a Media Summit at the seventh African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer, AORTIC, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, efforts to curb smoking on the continent are being threatened by “the tobacco industry’s aggressive efforts to stop public health interventions.”
It added that the tobacco industry is using several tactics to hold back legislation and convince African governments that tobacco was important to economic activity.
The report added that the industry was opposed to increase of taxes on cigarettes and implementation of smoke free laws by arguing that it will result in loss of revenues for government and job losses for the populace.
Opposition by tobacco industry
However, the report argued that increase of taxes on cigarettes would lead to decrease in the consumption of the commodity on the continent by about 60 percent. It said this has been proved in South Africa where its consumption has fallen by one-third since taxes were raised in 1993. It estimated that, by 2010, smoking will kill about six million people worldwide. Out of this, 72 percent would be from low and middle income countries, which are in Africa and Asia.
Speaking at the launch, Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said “For the first time in history, we have the tools in hand to prevent a pandemic. Recent date suggests that, with current trends, more than half the region of Africa will double its tobacco consumption within 12 years. Smoke free public places are one example a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented to protect health.”
The report acknowledged that, although smoke free laws have been passed by some countries, implementation is a big challenge while ignorance of the harm caused by second hand smoke is widespread. According to it, in Abuja “Fifty five percent of school students are not aware that second hand smoke is harmful to health, and only one percent of Nigeria’s population is protected by strong smoke free laws.”