Harm reduction efforts in the tobacco industry in Africa and globally affected by disinformation

By Wallace Mawire

Dr Tendai Mhizha

A recent presentation by Dr Tendai Mhizha,an Author,Public Speaker and Lecturer in strategy at Integra Africa,an organization working on providing strategic solutions focusing on Africa has revealed that the tobacco sector is severely affected by disinformation.

Dr Mhizha presented on an information session with the media on 11 October,2022 on misinformation/disinformation and tobacco harm reduction.

On the issue of disinformation and nicotine,Dr Mhizha said that disinformation is not limited to elections but also spread on many topics from personal defamation, sales information and Catfishing to issues such as the Russian-Ukranian war, Covid 19 and it’s vaccines and tobacco as well.

‘There has been a lot of disinformation surrounding the topic of nicotine and the alleged negative effects that e-cigarettes have on the body. This has led to policies that disfavour harm reduction products and discussion that completely denies their benefits,” Dr Mhizha said.

She said that furthermore, many governments across the world are now regulating nicotine harm reduction products in a fashion that is disproportionate to the risks associated with them.

‘For example, in countries like India and Australia government policies are more antagonistic to life-saving harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes and vapes than to deadly combustibles,” she said.

On  countering disinformation to protect harm reduction efforts, she said that one way that harm reduction initiatives can combat issues of disinformation is by investing in longitudinal studies on policy effectiveness.

She said that the European Union is already exploring different ways in which it can set up legal and regulatory frameworks to eliminate or prevent disinformation on the subject matter from spreading to the level of influencing government policy.

Dr Mhizha added that local journalism and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can also play a key role in supporting fact-checking, media literacy and the spreading of accurate information at a more local level.

She said that  efforts have been seen  to thwart the spread of misinformation at the local level  that can be useful in communities where the organizations have credibility and are rooted in the fabric of the local ecosystem.

‘It’s at this level where local journalists and CSOs can become the conveyors of truth and drivers of the correction of misinformation,” Dr Mhizha said.

According to her,disinformation refers to the action of deliberately sharing biased or misleading information or propaganda with the intention of manipulating or skewing the narrative of certain events and phenomena.

Misinformation is untrue information without specific intent.

She said that disinformation is a global problem that has affected debate and discussion as well as behavioral, societal and political outcomes on specific issues on a national and international level.

Dr Mhizha adds that the spread of misinformation and disinformation are not new phenomena, but the technologies and platforms that now connect billions of people around the world enable the creation and rapid dissemination of more sophisticated and dangerous forms of distortion than ever before.

‘The growing scope and scale of the threat posed by disinformation and misinformation is seen in politics, health, the environment, and technology, among other areas of society,” she said.

She said that as the world grapples with a raging pandemic, information literacy, which is the capacity to critically evaluate content for its quality and usefulness, is crucial to survival and recovery.

Also according to her, disinformation and misinformation have many negative effects which inlcude eroding  trust in public institutions,  exacerbating  class conflict, fomenting  fear and hatred, influencing public opinion and action, weakening  the credibility of  institutions, emboldening  hostile actors  and  jeopardizing  democracies.

On global trends that fuel misinformation and disinformation, she said that rapidly evolving technologies drive rapidly evolving definitions of misinformation and disinformation which in turn has led to declining trust in experts and institutions.

She says that digital technologies have made information more accessible and shareable, increasing the speed at which lies can spread.

‘The digital world erases standards we are used to in the physical world.Tech-enabled scale and speed make regulating the flow of information increasingly challenging. There is a continuing inability to address human psychology in the tech platforms and regulatory frameworks,”Dr Mhizha said.

On the impact on Africa,she said that disinformation as the intentional dissemination of false information with the intent of advancing a specific objective has had a negative impact on all continents.

She said that Africa has been the increasingly frequent target of such campaigns.

She cites the example in recent years of dozens of carefully designed campaigns which  have pumped millions of intentionally false and misleading posts into Africa’s online social spaces.

She says that the ensuing confusion in deciphering fact from fiction and has had a corrosive effect on social trust, critical thinking, and citizens’ ability to engage in politics fairly, which is the lifeblood of a functioning democracy.



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