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AORTIC Cancer Conference in Africa – Tobacco

Experts analyse tobacco burden in Africa

Experts identified that nearly 90% of people in Africa remain without meaningful protection from second-hand smoke, according to a global report launched in Dar es Salaam. The report, “Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smoke-Free Air,” also reveals that by 2010, smoking will claim the lives of six million people worldwide, 72% of whom reside in low-income countries.

The report points to signs of hope – it states that many African countries are fighting against the tobacco industry’s aggressive efforts to stop public health interventions, by putting smoke-free laws into place. The report, published by the Global Smoke-free Partnership, was launched at a media summit on “Fighting the Cancer and Tobacco Pandemic in Africa”, hosted by the American Cancer Society (ACS), prior to the “AORTIC Cancer in Africa Conference”, beginning on 12th November 2010, in Dar es Salaam. It notes that if the current trends continue, tobacco will kill seven million people annually by 2020 and more than eight million annually by 2030.

According to the report, nearly one billion people living in some 45 countries globally, are now protected from the health hazards of second-hand smoke at work and in public places.

It adds that despite the rapid progress, more than 5% of the world’s people still remain without meaningful protection from second-hand smoke, many of them in lower and middle-income countries. “For the first time in history, we have the tool in hand to prevent a pandemic”, said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society, at the launch.

Reviewing the report, Dr. Thomas Glynn, Director International Cancer Control – ACS, said that recent data suggested that with current trends, more than half of Africa would double its tobacco consumption in 12 years. He said smoke-free public places were one example of a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented now to protect health.

Dr Glynn said that within the last year, Kenya and Niger have enacted national smoke free policies and that South Africa, which has been smoke-free since March 2007, continues to play an important role in the region, demonstrating that smoke free laws can work in Africa. “In the first for the region, Mauritius recently passed a law that is close to meeting the Framework Convention on Tobacco (FCTC) standards, ranking among the most robust anti-smoking measures in the world,” he said. Dr. Glynn said implementation remained a challenge in many places, including Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.

He mentioned other obstacles, such as identifying resources for implementation and opposition to smoke-free laws by the tobacco industry. “In Abuja, Nigeria, for example, 55% of schools are not aware that second-hand smoke is harmful to health, and only 1% of Nigeria’s population is protected by strong smoke-free laws”. The report also exposes the tobacco industry’s tactics to hold back legislations and to convince African governments that tobacco is important to economic activity. They claim that raising taxes on cigarettes and implementing smoke-free laws will result in revenue and job losses.

“In Kenya, for example, the tobacco industry has issued a legal challenge to a strong smoke-free law passed by parliament, while in Zambia, British American Tobacco has helped to dilute proposals for a smoke-free law”.

However, evidence over the years suggests that the alleged revenue losses do not occur.

According to the report, the smoke-free law in Mauritius was not expected to have an impact on tourist revenues, which account for over a quarter of GDP.

In South Africa, VAT returns showed that smoke free laws had no significant effect on restaurant revenues, and may have had a positive effect, said ACS Researcher, Evan Blecher.

“When South Africa raised its taxes, revenues rose. And in countries where governments often lacked a surplus of revenue, raising taxes is found to be beneficial to social services, education, and healthcare”, he observed. In addition to smoke free-laws, economic intervention by means of imposing high taxes on cigarettes had significant potential to effectively and efficiently decrease consumption rates in Africa.

The ACS researcher was of the view that doubling the price of cigarettes by increasing the tax could lower consumption by 60%. This is proving to be the case in many African nations. In South Africa, for example, tobacco consumption has fallen by one-third since 1993, when aggressive increases in cigarette taxes began to take hold.

Global cigarette consumption has been rising steadily since James Bonsack invented the first cigarette rolling machine in 1881. By the 1960s, the controvertible health consequences of smoking had become apparent. The “Third edition of the Tobacco Atlas” states that all forms of tobacco are addictive and lethal, while scientific evidence confirms that smokers face significantly elevated risk of death from numerous cancers, particularly lung cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke and many fatal conditions. It adds that smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke imposes an exceptional health risk on pregnant women, infants and children. Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke experience immediate cardiovascular and respiratory damage.

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