PRICED OUT OF HARM REDUCTION? DYING FROM LACK OF SAFER ALTERNATIVES
Anyone come across Philip Morris’ unsmoke the world campaign yet ? I have said before that big tobacco’s efforts to avail safer nicotine alternatives is a good thing for public health . But you would think with tobacco companies claims of gradual shift from traditional cigarettes to safer nicotine products, their initiatives would target regions with growing number of smokers.
Approximately 270,000 Africans died of smoking-related illnesses in 2019. With a rapidly growing young population and rising prosperity, sadly, in many African countries the number of smokers is expected to soar. Tobacco companies seem to leave the Africa out of the conversation when it comes to tobacco harm reduction , both Philip Morris and B.A.T make billions selling traditional cigarettes in the region . Smoking rates are dropping drastically in older and much more traditional markets, this can be attributed to tobacco harm reduction, an approach the tobacco industry has openly embraced.
To date Africa imports well over 80% of its safer nicotine products . There seems to be no effort from tobacco companies to avail safer nicotine alternatives to the African market. Regardless of the fact that snus for example, is legal in most countries, big tobacco seem reluctant — a price issue maybe? 250,000 Smokers die every year in Africa .These deaths and diseases can be prevented with timely access to appropriate cessation services, and safer nicotine alternatives.Without access to these products, Africans are susceptible to more smoking caused deaths on the continent.
People who smoke in Africa continue to be sidelined in the harm reduction response. A smoke-free Africa remains a mirage, in a context in which the human rights of people who smoke are acutely neglected. It is more urgent than ever that governments, and all relevant stakeholders (including big tobacco), join arms in ramping up efforts to implement evidence-based tobacco harm reduction programs for people who smoke cigarettes in Africa.
Overall, many of us, representing civil society and networks of affected communities, feel the discussions are a smoke-free world are not honest enough. We continue to dig our heads in the sand while our communities suffer. We must ask ourselves: How realistic can the smoke-free world agenda be if we leave behind a whole key population?
Africa’s solutions to improving citizen access to safer nicotine products could lie in stimulating local production, developing the right policies and infrastructure, and favorable taxes towards products that lower smoking rates.