Africa: WHO Enlists Politicians in Anti-Tobacco War
NAIROBI -- The World Health Organisation (WHO), is
targeting African policy-makers, to counter the intensified
marketing campaigns by tobacco multinationals in the continent.
The tobacco "epidemic", according to WHO, is increasingly
becoming a major problem for developing countries, accounting for
up to 80 percent of global cigarette consumption.
"Tobacco is a communicable disease transmitted by a very
powerful vector, advertisement," G. L Moswemyane, WHO's
environmental health officer in Botswana told an inter country
parliamentary meeting on tobacco here.
WHO data indicates that smoking is increasingly a problem of
developing countries, with a steady upward rise during the last
decade, estimated at 2.5 percent higher than the rate of increase
noted in other developing countries.
Smoking prevalence in the continent ranges from between 15
percent to an approximated high of 67 percent, a factor largely
attributed to intense promotional campaigns by the tobacco
industry targeting youths in all the countries in the region.
"It was rare to see young people smoking. Now it is a common
thing among young boys, girls and sex workers," Ashbie Mweemba, a
health Official from Zambia, said at the meeting being held in the
A recent WHO study conducted in Nairobi revealed a high level
of tobacco use, 67 percent of men and 32 percent of women were
reported smokers, a trend applicable to nearly all African
"Their new market is Africa. They are being sued elsewhere or
people are beginning to stop smoking. The multinationals sponsor
activities associated with young people, such as pool and soccer,"
Experts attending the conference expressed concern that most
young people started with tobacco as an entry point to drug abuse
and other anti-social habits.
"The issue of tobacco is a special case," explains Samboujang
Conteh, who heads Raid Gambia, a non-governmental organisation
that deals with public health issues.
"By addressing tobacco, we are dealing with drug abuse and
HIV/AIDS spread through the sharing of needles."
The meeting, which draws participants from 21 English speaking
African countries, aims at mobilising parliamentarians and other
public health leaders to draw collective action for comprehensive
national tobacco control policies in the region.
Many African countries have anti-tobacco legislation, the
conference heard, but lack capacity to implement the laws. Little
information is available for the public on the effects of tobacco
on health, militating against implementation of tobacco control
For example in Zambia, the anti-tobacco law stipulates that
children under the age of 16 should be denied access to
cigarettes, but retailers still openly sell them to children under
In Nairobi Kenya, street children, as young as four, buy
cigarettes for their own use from vendors. "Right now, most
Africans don't know there are repercussions that come with
smoking," says Mweemba.
African governments are being encouraged to increase tobacco
tax revenue, which in turn would be directed to tobacco control.
Rising the price of tobacco has been seen as one of the
simplest and most effective methods of significantly reducing
tobacco use, especially in developing countries and among the
youth, who have less disposable income.
The power and popularity of a tobacco tax increase in turn,
according to WHO, can be dramatically enhanced by using the
revenue to fund tobacco control.
The week-long meeting will also address the challenges of
globalisation, which restricts the ability of countries to
regulate tobacco, a problem which has spread through a set of
complex factors that transcend national borders.
The meeting is part of the WHO global initiative on tobacco
control. WHO has also began negotiations for the establishment of
a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The framework convention is expected to strengthen government
legislation by addressing tobacco-related agricultural policies in
producing countries, prices and taxes of tobacco and the
controversial issue of advertising.
- 109 Tobacco