November 12, 2009

Africa Faces Surge In Tobacco-Related Deaths

Africans face a surge in cancer deaths amid growing rates of tobacco use and a lack of laws that protect people from second-hand smoke, according to a joint report released Wednesday by the Global Smokefree Partnership and the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The continent, which accounts for 14 percent of the world's population, has just four percent of the world's smokers today.   But African nations are set to undergo the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use among developing countries, with more than half the continent expected to double its tobacco use within 12 years if current trends continue, the report found. 

This comes at a time when nearly 90 percent of Africans have no meaningful protection from secondhand smoke.

"If we don't act now on tobacco control in Africa, millions of lives will be lost because tobacco is now becoming an issue in Africa," Tom Glynn of the Global Smokefree Partnership told the AFP news agency.

The report, entitled "Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smokefree Air", also offers some hope.

Many African nations are fighting against the tobacco industry's aggressive efforts to stop public health interventions by putting smoke-free laws into place.

"For the first time in history, we have the tools in hand to prevent a pandemic," said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

"Recent data suggests that, with current trends, more than half of the region of Africa will double its tobacco consumption within 12 years. Smoke-free public places are one example of a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented now to protect health."

Kenya and Niger have enacted national smoke-free policies within the last year, and South Africa, which has been smoke-free since March 2007, continues to play a vital role in the region, demonstrating that smoke-free laws can work in Africa.

In a first for the region, Mauritius recently passed a law that is close to meeting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) standards, ranking among the strongest anti-smoking measures in the world.

However, implementation remains a challenge in many places, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda, the report found.

Barriers include identifying resources for implementation, and tobacco industry opposition to smoke-free laws.  In Abuja, Nigeria, for example, 55 percent of students are unaware that secondhand smoke is harmful to health, and smoke-free laws protect just 1 percent of the population.

The report exposes the tobacco industry's efforts to prevent legislation through convincing African governments that tobacco is important to their economies, and that raising taxes on cigarettes and adopting smoke-free laws will result in revenue and job losses.

In Kenya, the tobacco industry has legally challenged a strong smoke-free law passed by the Parliament.  And in Zambia, British American Tobacco has helped to water down proposals for a smoke-free law.

But evidence in recent years indicates that such alleged revenue losses do not occur.  For instance, the smoke-free law in Mauritius is not expected to impact tourist revenues, which account for more than 25% of the nation's GDP, the report found.

In South Africa, value added tax returns showed that smoke-free laws had no meaningful impact on restaurant revenues, and indeed may have had a positive effect.

In addition to tough anti-smoking laws, economic interventions, such as imposing high taxes on cigarettes, have substantial potential to effectively and efficiently decrease tobacco consumption rates in Africa.  Doubling the price of cigarettes by increasing the tax can lower consumption by 60 percent, the report found.

This holds true among many African nations. In South Africa, for example, tobacco consumption has decreased by one-third since 1993, when aggressive increases in cigarettes taxes began to take effect.

It is estimated that in 2010 smoking will claim the lives of 6 million people worldwide, 72 percent of which live in low- and middle-income nations.

If current trends continue, tobacco will kill 7 million people a year by 2020 and more than 8 million people annually by 2030.

Some 1 billion people in 45 nations are now protected from the health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke at work and in public areas.  Despite this progress, more than 85 percent of the world's people are without such protection.

The report was launched at a Media Summit hosted by the American Cancer Society in advance of the AORTIC Cancer in Africa conference beginning on Nov. 12 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Updates on the American Cancer Society activities at the conference can be viewed at http://cancer.blogs.com/acsaortic.


On the Net: