In comparison to the rest of the globe, tobacco use in Africa is minimal. According to a 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) report, the African area had the lowest tobacco usage prevalence rate of any WHO region in 2000, at 18.5%.

Tobacco consumption has surged in Africa as economic development continues, with nations such as Ethiopia and Rwanda experiencing unprecedented growth. The WHO now projects that tobacco-related fatalities in poor and middle-income countries, many of which are in Africa, would more than treble in the coming years.

Rising tobacco consumption is expected to be harmful to developing countries. The infrastructure to address the associated health issues simply does not exist. Addressing this issue early will provide African nations the best opportunity of lowering poverty and boosting living conditions, as well as overall health.

People frequently equate economic growth with good things such as increased job possibilities and more money in our pockets. Companies, on the other hand, are keen to promote products to consumers who have more money to spend. The tobacco industry is included in this. In 2013, the Network of African Science Academies convened a committee of experts who discovered that “as tobacco use has declined in high-income countries, the tobacco industry has increasingly turned to low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, to recruit new users.”

To sell their goods in African countries, tobacco producers have adopted particular strategies. Companies have urged local sellers to offer individual cigarettes to attract young and low-income customers, according to a 2021 research published in the World Health Organization Bulletin. Tobacco businesses have also employed promotional strategies such as price cuts, coupons, and giveaways, despite the fact that these practices are normally illegal.

Unfortunately for certain African countries, as the economy has expanded, so has the number of smokers. For example, as the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s annual GDP increased from 2009 to 2014, so did cigarette use.

Tobacco use causes health problems such as cancer, stroke, and lung disease, according to the Burden of Health Care Research. These are known as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and their prevalence is increasing in Africa. This creates a challenge for healthcare infrastructure. According to the World Economic Forum, most NCDs are treated in large metropolitan hospitals, putting an additional strain on rural patients. Furthermore, many hospitals simply do not have the means to serve such a large number of patients.

Another thing to think about is the prevalence of infectious diseases like malaria, HIV, and COVID-19. These diseases have been a constant strain on healthcare systems that have been described as “fragile, fragmented, under-resourced, and limited.” Increasing tobacco consumption will only aggravate the situation.

To justify their presence in underdeveloped countries, tobacco companies frequently emphasize employment creation. They go on to say that raising tobacco taxes will lead people to lose their employment.

Some poor countries’ economy are actually reliant on tobacco. According to a 2009 research, Malawi relies on tobacco exports for 70% of its foreign earnings. More tobacco regulations, on the other hand, could be advantageous to Malawi. It might “diversify” its economy and attract foreign aid to develop other businesses.

Dr. Kenneth E. Warner made the same point in his 1999 Tobacco Control essay, “The Economics of Tobacco: Myths and Realities.” Essentially, he emphasized that just because a country is no longer reliant on the tobacco business does not imply it has no other industries to rely on. Resources can be directed toward the development of other industries, and consumers can spend their money elsewhere, so creating new jobs.

When one considers the financial burden of addiction, the idea of economic development through tobacco is further shattered. According to studies, increased tobacco usage in Africa will exacerbate poverty. Money spent on tobacco products and treatment for related ailments could bankrupt low-income families by hurting employment, not to mention the debilitating impacts of these diseases.

Fortunately, many African countries are taking steps to avoid their economies from becoming unduly reliant on tobacco. Uganda is one of these countries. The Ugandan government passed the National Tobacco Control Act in 2015, making tobacco sales to anybody under the age of 21 illegal. It also prohibited smoking in public places such as schools and hospitals, as well as tobacco product advertising.

In recent years, media initiatives in Uganda have been developed to educate the people about the economic and health risks connected with tobacco usage. They have also campaigned for stricter cigarette pricing, which would provide financing for additional tobacco control efforts.

Another encouraging development is that 51 of 54 African nations have accepted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, pledging to adopt tobacco-control policies.

Combating growing tobacco usage in Africa is critical to lowering poverty and advancing progress. Tobacco control funding is a crucial step toward relieving pressure on African healthcare systems. It is past time for the globe to abandon smoking.

– Abbi Powell


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