Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Tackling big tobacco’s menace towards a smoke-free generation

By Edu Abade, who was in Cape Town, South Africa
02 April 2018   |   4:04 am
Louis Richard Albert and Lettie Semaru, both South African nationals, are suffering from lung disease and tuberculosis. They are undergoing treatment and care at the Lung Clinical Research Unit of the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute-the world’s second largest facility.....

South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi (left); Press Conference Chair, Dr. Flavia Senkubuge; Co-Chair, Jose Luis Castro; Head of Secretariat, World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva; WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; and WHO Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg; at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), in Cape Town, South Africa

Louis Richard Albert and Lettie Semaru, both South African nationals, are suffering from lung disease and tuberculosis. They are undergoing treatment and care at the Lung Clinical Research Unit of the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute-the world’s second largest facility for lung diseases and tuberculosis.

Semaru told The Guardian that she started smoking at the age of 13. Now 67, she had stopped smoking after using tobacco products for over 50 years. But she had developed complications from tobacco use.

“I smoked just anything. While I was smoking, I did not listen to any advice to quit until it was almost too late. It is the same for those who are still smoking. They never heed any entreaties to quit until they get to a tragic point. If you are being advised to quit, you think people hate you. It is question of strong addiction,” she said.

On his part, Albert, 70, has been smoking for over 55 years until he developed lung disease and tuberculosis. Now a retired master mariner, he said being at sea always boosted his smoking instincts but after developing health complications, he had to quit seven years ago.

Professor Richard N van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit, University of Cape Town, who administers care on patients of lung diseases, painted a gloomy picture when he said the world records one death from smoking related ailments every 13 seconds, translating to 4.5 deaths per minute.

He explained that although smoking does not directly cause any known disease, 50 per cent of smokers would die prematurely from a smoking related disease and roughly 14 years earlier. According to him, this is because smoking compromises tobacco users’ immune system to the extent that their immune systems are unable to resist any ailments.

“In South Africa, 20 per cent of the men smoke, while five per cent of the women use tobacco products in one form or the other. Cape Town has the highest cases of tuberculosis and lung disease,” he said.

However, statistics released at the just concluded 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) in Cape Town with the theme: Uniting The World For A Tobacco Free Generation, put the annual global deaths from smoking at seven million, with 50 per cent of such deaths domiciled in Africa.

That figure, experts say, is more than deaths from AIDS/STDs, cancer, heart disease, chronic disruptive diseases (CDDs) and others put together. It is for this reason that the world converged on Cape Town to find a lasting solution to ending the menace of big tobacco industry’s gimmicks at indulging more people, especially children and youths to smoking and using other lethal tobacco products.

Experts and tobacco control advocates from over 120 countries spoke in favour of effective tobacco control laws that would eliminate deaths resulting from tobacco use in Africa and the entire world.

Representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the South African Ministry of Health, ministries of health from 120 countries around the world, including Nigeria, as well as tobacco control advocacy groups, attended the conference.

Tobacco control groups like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), Africa Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), among many others, made robust representations at the conference.

Their mission- To encourage countries around the world to strengthen regulations against tobacco use and enforce regulations in countries that already have tobacco control laws in place and ensure enforcement of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

In a report titled: Big Tobacco Is Targeting The World’s Most Vulnerable To Increase Profits, it was revealed that in 2016 alone, tobacco use caused over 7.1 million deaths worldwide (5.1 million in men and 2.0 million in women.)“Most of these deaths were attributable to cigarette smoking, while 884,000 were related to secondhand smoke. The increase in tobacco-related diseases and deaths has been outpaced by the increase in industry profits.

“The combined profits of the world’s biggest tobacco companies exceeded $64.27 billion in 2015, the last year on record for all major companies. This is equivalent to $9,730 for the death of each smoker, an increase of 39 per cent since the last Tobacco Atlas was published when the figure stood at $7,000,” it added.

The report added that tobacco costs the global economy $2 trillion (purchasing power parity) each year, about two per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), while Africa and the Middle East are a tipping point for avoiding epidemic numbers of preventable morbidity and mortality.

Participants, therefore, resolved to end the tobacco epidemic through effective legislations and vigorous education of the people on the dangers of smoking and other tobacco uses across the globe and especially Sub-Sahara Africa.

Addressing participants, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, said after two decades of legislations against tobacco, big tobacco companies like British America Tobacco (BAT) and Phillip Morris International were now fighting back to retain their profits.His words: “The Tobacco Industry, which is only after profits, has turned its attention on Africa. It targets younger people and Africa has the youngest population in the world.

Therefore, we want to accelerate and amend legislations to strengthen measures aimed at reducing and even eliminating tobacco use and ending the tobacco epidemic in Africa and the world.“All the signs are there that the Tobacco Industry wants to fight back through promises of jobs creation and by mobilising unions against tobacco control legislations. What they are saying in essence is: ‘Allow us to poison you and we will give you jobs.’ But are they creating jobs for corpses?”

He said there should be a global collaboration to strengthen legislations against tobacco use and implement the WHO’s FCTC.Also speaking, WHO’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that although countries have made progress in their tobacco control efforts, the awareness and progress was better felt in African countries where the Tobacco Industry targets the poor, vulnerable and low-income population.

This, he pointed out, perhaps explains why the WCTOH was held in Africa for the first time and has the largest attendance ever with over 120 countries and no fewer than 250,000 participants including journalists from around the world.In his submission, WHO Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), Michael R. Bloomberg, argued that although a lot of progress has been recorded in tobacco control issues, countries still have a long way to go in the fight to end the tobacco epidemic.

“We need to educate people about the dangers of tobacco uses like smoking, e-cigarettes, shisha and others. Our efforts have saved 35 million lives in the last decade but the Tobacco Industry is trying all means to circumvent our efforts.“They know and we know that tobacco is dangerous and it kills. Teenage smoking has reduced by half and we have made progress in America, Asia, Africa and around the world, but we have to try harder to stop the Tobacco Industry from giving wrong information about the dangers of tobacco.

“The day tobacco no longer claims lives is the day we win the war. We must sustain the fight to end the tobacco epidemic and achieve a tobacco-free generation,” he said.Bloomberg, who is the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced that his organisation would provide $20 million to fund the launch of a new global watchdog- Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) that would aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices that undermine public health.

“We cannot stand by as the industry misleads the public in an effort to get more people hooked on its deadly products and this global watchdog will help us to hold the industry accountable,” he added.Also, in her presentation during a training organised for African journalists on the sidelines of the conference, Associate Director, International Communications at of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Caroline Renzulli, said there were over one billion smokers in the world.

“Six per cent of the world’s adult population smoke tobacco products, with about 77 million smokers living in Africa. Smoking prevalence is expected to increase by nearly 39 per cent by 2030, the largest expected regional increase globally.“Also, 26 per cent of world’s smokers or 413 million people will live in Africa by 2100. Since the 1950s, tobacco companies knew that nicotine is addictive and that tobacco use causes diseases and death. But they systematically covered up their knowledge and aggressively pushed their deadly products to children and young people around the world,” she said.

The Africa Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), in its report titled: Big Tobacco Tiny Targets, had stressed that tobacco companies systematically target children as young as six years old around schools to facilitate their initiation into smoking.“They consider children and youths as a reservoir to replace the dying generation of smokers, especially in Africa. Tobacco companies violate even their own codes of conduct mainly because they are guided by profit motives and not public health concerns,” it said.

Besides, Tobacco companies have also devised several products meant to deepen the profits and introduce more users. These include e-cigarettes, specially flavoured cigarettes and shisha, which is now predominantly used by youths in most cities in Africa.But big tobacco denies promoting their products to children. While Phillip Morris International (PMI) said it does not market its products to children anywhere in the world, British America Tobacco (BAT) claimed that it has strict rules against targeting children and youths.

However, in spite of their denials, health experts and tobacco control advocates stressed that every death from tobacco is preventable and every government has the powers to reduce the human and economic toll of the tobacco epidemic.According to Co-Editor of The Tobacco Atlas and Vice President of the Economic and Health Policy Research at the American Cancer Society, Jeffrey Drope, “It starts by resisting the influence of the industry and implementing proven tobacco control policies.”