The presence of a thriving black-market trade for electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and other new nicotine products in Africa is a concerning issue. The growth of this illicit trade has been facilitated by regulatory burdens, as traditional World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) tobacco control policies and regulations were not designed to specifically address these new products, leaving a regulatory void.
When the WHO drafted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), cigarette sales in Africa were dominated by combustible cigarettes. The emergence of new technologies, such as e-cigarettes and tobacco-heating products, along with a deterioration in attitudes toward cooperation have rendered many of the assumptions on which the treaty is based obsolete.
Addressing the policy implementation gap and the already thriving black-market trade of novel nicotine products in Africa will require a comprehensive and coordinated response from local governments, public health authorities, law enforcement agencies, and international partners. By introducing a nicotine policy, separate from the tobacco control policy, steps can be taken to reduce the prevalence of illicit e-cigarettes in Africa and protect public health.
Addressing this regulatory gap requires a balanced approach that protects public health, ensures product safety, and considers the evolving scientific evidence. A Comprehensive tobacco control policy and a nicotine policy are related but distinct concepts.
For years, tobacco control policies in Africa have aimed to create a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to reduce tobacco use, prevent initiation, and support cessation. These policies have typically covered all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco-related products. Countries that implemented outright bans have given rise to black markets.
Nicotine policy, on the other hand, specifically focuses on the regulation and control of nicotine, which is the addictive substance found in tobacco products. The policy is narrower in scope compared to a comprehensive tobacco control policy as it specifically focuses on nicotine and the regulation of nicotine-containing products.
It will address the use of nicotine across various delivery systems, including traditional combustible tobacco, electronic cigarettes, vaping devices, nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), and other emerging nicotine products. The policy can ensure that new nicotine products are regulated to protect public health and safety. It will establish guidelines and standards for manufacturing, labeling, and marketing to ensure product quality and prevent the introduction of unsafe or substandard products into the market.
A nicotine policy can save lives in Africa by promoting harm reduction and encouraging the use of safer nicotine products as alternatives to traditional combustible tobacco products. Policies may support the availability and accessibility of products like electronic cigarettes, which have the potential to reduce the harm associated with smoking. This approach acknowledges that some individuals who are already using nicotine may benefit from switching to less harmful alternatives.
This nicotine policy is essential in today’s ever-evolving market because it ensures that new nicotine products are regulated to protect public health and safety. It can establish guidelines and standards for manufacturing, labeling, and marketing to ensure product quality and prevent the introduction of unsafe or substandard products into the market.
Sweden has a unique approach to nicotine policy that distinguishes between different nicotine products, such as cigarettes, snus, and nicotine pouches. This approach reflects the country’s long-standing cultural and historical relationship with snus, a form of smokeless tobacco. It is through such policy that Sweden will soon be the first country to become smoke-free, which global health experts generally consider to be a smoking prevalence of 5% or less of the adult population.
By implementing a comprehensive nicotine policy, governments in Africa can strike a balance between protecting public health, promoting harm reduction, and addressing the evolving landscape of nicotine products. We can Emulate Sweden and become smoke-free, by taking proactive measures and implementing evidence-based policies in African countries that will ensure significant progress in reducing smoking and its associated harms.
By Joseph Magero, Chair, Campaign For Safer Alternatives