Africa lags world in adopting alternatives to smoking

Africa is falling behind the rest of the world in the battle to save the lives of millions of smokers. Policy makers’ lack of support for tobacco harm reduction products is effectively a death sentence for many.

Africa lags world in adopting alternatives to smoking
Policy makers’ lack of support for tobacco harm reduction products is effectively

Africa is falling behind the rest of the world in the battle to save the lives of millions of smokers. Policy makers’ lack of support for tobacco harm reduction products is effectively a death sentence for many.

If we are serious about reducing the 250,000 tobacco-related deaths in Africa every year, we must give smokers a realistic route to quitting cigarettes.

80% of smokers live in low-and middle-income countries and have no access to safer nicotine products — resulting in greater pain and suffering, prolonged illness and preventable deaths. Health professionals and Policy makers in Africa find themselves confronted by a phenomenon of rising cigarette smoking rates. Despite some effort by African governments in achieving some of the Sustainable Development Goals, reducing tobacco smoking has proved the hardest to deliver.

The world has understood the risks of smoking for several decades and that quitting the habit is essential to maintaining one’s good health, but not everyone can break free from the habit. Traditional cigarettes contain over 6,000 chemicals and ultrafine particles, 93 of which are on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list as potentially harmful. Most, roughly 80 of those listed, are or are potentially carcinogenic, with the end result remaining the same – smoking is the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancer.

And yet, despite the empirical data that reveals the risks of smoking, more than 60% of those who are diagnosed with cancer continue to smoke.

Non-evidence-based policymaking and misinformation are considered some of the biggest obstacles to cutting tobacco smoking-related deaths and disease in the coming years by adoption of innovative tobacco harm reduction strategies.

By comparison, the countries that are having the biggest success in reducing smoking rates are doing so by focusing on innovative harm-reduction interventions and actively helping smokers to quit using science-backed alternatives.

Public health associations in countries such as the US, France, New Zealand and Canada have taken a progressive approach to new nicotine products and have seen their smoking rates fall at twice as fast as the global rates. Bringing Africa in line with the world leaders in tobacco control is going to require a significant tactical change.

In order to reduce smoking-rates in our continent and reap the public health benefits of this new science, we need to reformulate our approach to tobacco control and embrace newer and more effective harm reduction interventions in a non-discriminatory manner.