RUNDU – There has been a concerning gradual decline in the use of tobacco products in Africa between 2010 and 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, the greatest decline in tobacco use has been recorded in the Western world, while the same cannot be said about Africa, “Because it is in Africa where we have the youngest population; over 60% of the African population is below 25 years old. It is in Africa where we have rapid developments; it is in Africa where we have young people who try everything. They want to experiment on anything and we get excited over small things,’’ said Dr William Maina, the technical coordinator for tobacco control at WHO’s regional office for Africa.
He made the remarks during an anti-tobacco workshop in Rundu last week. Maina stressed that Africans are being recruited in the consumption of this dangerous product, as Africa provides a huge future market for tobacco products, which is diminishing in the West – and that is why the focus of marketing every new product is in Africa.
“In Africa, we have very weak regulatory systems. I’m sure I can go to a country and the police there, who are actually the frontline law enforcers, say ‘I have never seen this Act – 10 years after being enacted by parliament,” he said.
He was referring to the Tobacco Products Control Act, which Namibia is a signatory to.
“There are very poor regulatory systems and enforcements – and, therefore, anybody bringing those products here, they find a field where there is low regulation and therefore they can proliferate without control. That is why these products are finding themselves in Africa.
“That is why the decline of tobacco consumption in our region is so gradual and very low. Today, over 10% of the population in Africa is consuming tobacco products; we want to see this decline go further and further,’’ he said.
Maina also urged the anti-tobacco trainees to go work hard to ensure no new young people are recruited in tobacco consumption and also to ensure those using tobacco products reduce or quit.
“Tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the leading causes of non-communicable diseases today, and many of these diseases are occurring in low- and middle-income countries. I’m sure Namibia must be one of these countries; they are killing so many people because of various diseases,’’ he noted.
During the same workshop, health executive director Ben Nangombe echoed Maina’s sentiments, saying the anti-tobacco fight is no child’s play.
“We are going to face opposition and resistance, and we have seen that there is a lot of resistance – even with the labelling of the cigarette boxes – and the funny thing about tobacco is as much as the boxes are labelled with gruesome photos, people still buy them. It doesn’t seem to scare them; it’s like we have become desensitised to it,” he said.
“We have a lot of work to do. All sectors must come together and face this challenge as a team, and that is the only way we will be able to overcome it,’’ Nangombe said.