Africa in need of a tobacco control policy built on scientific risk assessment

By Wallace Mawire

Joseph Magero,Chairman of CASA

The Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA),an organisation based in Kenya working with various stakeholders including policy makers to conscientise them on key issues affecting them like health has reported that it is very crucial for Africa to have a tobacco control policy built on scientific rsik assessment and a comprehensible communication strategy.

Joseph Magero,Chairman of CASA made  a presentation at the second Harm Reduction Exchange workshop for Journalists from the Southern Africa region held in Nairobi,kenya on 30 November to 1 December,2022 under the theme:Harm Reduction:Making a difference in Africa.The workshop was convened by Integrity Africa,an organization based in South Africa and focusing on sustainable solutions on the African continent.

Magero’s presentation focused on tobacco harm reduction with key emphasis on practices,challenges and progress in Africa.The discussion was premised on the challenges and progress of harm reduction strategies in the african context.

According to Magero,the African continent stands at crossroads in its long journey to reduce the immense health toll from the smoking of cigarettes by millions of its citizens.

‘Turn one way at this crossroads,and we will continue to see many,many thousands of Africans needlessly dying every year from tobacco-related diseases,’Magero said.

He said that on the other viewpoint,on turning the other way, along the path of tobacco harm reduction,the African continent will see the unneccessary deaths being prevented and millions of lives being saved in the years to come.

Magero says that his organization believes that Africa should be taking the latter path as soon as it can possibly can before more lives are lost.He adds that there is mounting scientific evidence informing that the path of tobacco harm reduction has multiple benefits for the continent and its citizens.

He adds that the scientific evidence in support of tobacco harm reduction products  such as nicotine pouches,snus,patches and gums, as well as vapes is overwhelming.

Focusing at a global level,according to Magero,every year,the main public health body in the United Kingdom publishes an annual review of vaping’s impact.

He says that its most comprehensive study to date recently affirmed its conclusion that vapes are significantly safer than combustible cigarettes and are the most effective tool for helping smokers to quit.

‘Its no wonder then that health authorities in the UK and other wealthy countries around the world are embracing vapes as part of their programmes to reduce tobacco use to 5% or less of their population,’Magero said.

It is also reported that as vaping rates in the countries go up,smoking rates also go down.

Another example cited globally by Magero is Sweden, which he says is about to become the first nation to reach that 5% target,the level which is officially classified as ‘smoke-free.’

Magero says that the developed world countries have achieved this progress by making safer alternatives to cigarettes both available and affordable for adult smokers.

According to Magero, Sweden has the highest consumption of nicotine pouches,but the lowest smoking and tobacco-related disease rates in Europe.

‘Tellingly,Sweden’s tobacco-related mortality rate is 44% lower compared to many elsewhere in Europe,”Magero said.

He revealed  that in the USA,the Food and drug administration says pouches will significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual tobacco users and benefit the health of the population as a whole.

CASA believes that such success stories developing in Europe deserve serious consideration in Africa, where smoking rates are going in a different direction.

Magero said that when the Tobacco Atlas report was published in May 2022, it was able to boast that smoking rates have declined globally for the first time on record.

He however,said that tragically,Africa could not share in the celebrations.He says that the report found smoking rates had actually increased in 10 countries on the African continent.

It is reported that in most other African countries,rates  remain stubbornly high.

Magero believes that the solution to the challenges affecting the African  continent rest on the need to correctly inform people about the risks of combustible cigarettes and potential journeys to quit.

He adds that that would be ideal,but sadly,its not happening because misinformation is prevalent in most of Africa relating to tobacco harm reduction solutions.

‘it is more than simply disappointing to see how tobacco harm reduction products are officially regarded across our continent,”Magero said.

He says that the life-saving products have been met with open hostility and ignorance from some activists and pressure groups in Africa who have mistakenly refused to distinguish between cigarettes,tobacco and nicotine.

Magero says that chief hurdles being faced in Africa are a lack of knowledge and an abundance of misinformation.

He adds that in spite of these systematic obstacles,tobacco harm reduction advocacy in Africa continues to push forward.He says that many organizations around the continent are trying to bring about policy change that can save lives.He says that CASA is one such organizations already having a positive impact on the continent.

He says that Africa’s policy-makers should be drawing from global best practices and implementing policies that not only enable smokers to make informed choices,but also recognise the life-saving potential of alternative nicotine products.

He adds that the continent needs to continue having the conversations  until all Africans are heading along the road to a healthier future.

 

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