Thanks to tobacco control, cigarette smoking is now a moralized behavior in the African culture, with smokers being judged as immoral people. Moralization refers to the gradual cultural and personal process by which objects or activities move from being morally neutral to morally contemptuous.
Beliefs that smoking is immoral correlate more highly with disgust at and liking for smoking than do beliefs about the health effects of cigarettes. Despite government’s efforts in Africa, people keep smoking — so what does our eagerness to make them suffer say about us? 77 Million people continue to smoke in Africa today. They stop when they want to stop, on their own terms, for their own reasons. Or they don’t. They make the choice to continue doing something that is perfectly legal, in the full knowledge of the consequences and risks. If you speak to smokers and ask them what they dislike about smoking, they will say the ever-increasing price of cigarettes (sin-tax), followed by the social stigma attached to smoking. In fact, many smokers believe they were being treated very unfairly by their government.
“Nihil de nobis, sine nobis” (Nothing for us without us) is a slogan used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy. Tobacco control fraternity does a lot when it comes to smoking but fail to include smokers in the conversation. There’s no way you can be making key decisions about smokers and only let them be beneficiaries, without involving them. Despite our tobacco control’s efforts to eradicate cigarettes, the number of smokers is still on the rise in Africa.
Being a smoker and even being addicted to tobacco use does not remove the person’s free will. Addiction involves the discovery of a source of pleasure and the resulting pattern of wanting that pleasure often. At the end of the day, the individual is sovereign over himself, over his own body and mind. World Health Organization’s FCTC & tobacco control need to consider smokers and support the use of tobacco harm reduction strategies, where smokers switch from tobacco to low risk nicotine-based products. Moralized persuasion has a strong potential to divide society along the lines of citizens who conform to and citizens who deviate from health-related moral norms.
The current approach to global tobacco control fuels widespread human rights violations against people who smoke. Human rights apply to everyone. People who smoke do not forfeit their human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Harm reduction opposes the deliberate hurts and harms inflicted on people who smoke cigarettes in the name of tobacco control and drug prevention and promotes responses to nicotine addiction that respect and protect fundamental human rights.
Why tobacco harm reduction? Not all smokers are wannabe quitters! We have millions of smokers in Africa that see themselves smoking in the future. Why not offer them safer alternatives that provide them the pleasure minus the tar?