The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, says no fewer than 1.2 million people die annually due to exposure to tobacco smoke.
Moeti said this in her message to mark 2021 World No Tobacco Day with the theme, “Commit to quit.”
May 31 of every year is World No Tobacco Day.
She said the theme was to remind everyone that tobacco kills half of its users, and also harms nearly every organ in the human body.
She said that even smoking one cigarette a day can seriously harm a person’s health.
“Tobacco use can lead to lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel and other cancers.
”It increases the risk of chest and lung infections, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other conditions.
“There is no safe form of tobacco.
“The theme this year is because the choice to stop tobacco use is in our hands.
“Millions of people have been motivated to quit tobacco during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is because of evidence showing tobacco smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off Corona virus and other diseases,’’ she said.
Moeti said that of the 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, 60 per cent have expressed the desire to quit.
”But only 30 per cent have access to the tools to do so successfully,” she noted.
According to her, ”digital solutions can help to fill this gap and so at WHO we have introduced “Florence” a digital health worker who gives brief advice on how to quit and links people with the tools and solutions that can help.
“More than 75 million people in the African Region use some form of tobacco.
“This burden is likely to increase as consumer purchasing power improves coupled with intensive efforts by the tobacco industry to expand the African market,’’ Moeti said
The regional director said that public health advocates should therefore actively pursue counter-marketing campaigns that highlight the many risks of tobacco use.
She said that WHO was supporting countries to scale up programmes to help people quit tobacco at the primary health care and community levels.
”So far support to quit is available in primary health care facilities in 11 countries and in Angola, Botswana and Zambia these services are offered at no cost to consumers.
“National toll-free lines where tobacco users can call and get advice are available in six countries.
“ Nicotine replacement therapy is sold in pharmacies in 19 countries with governments fully covering the costs in Eswatini, Mauritius and Seychelles.
“Nicotine replacement therapy is included in the essential medicines list in Algeria, Ethiopia and South Africa. Burkina Faso is implementing “mTobaccoCessation,” a mobile text messaging-based solution,’’ she said.
Moeti said that the promising progress now needs to be expanded to more countries in the WHO African Region.
She called on governments and communities to be alert to industry tactics to attract new users and keep people using tobacco, even when they are trying to quit.
“Products such as electronic cigarettes and nicotine pouches are highly addictive and not recommended as strategies to reduce tobacco use,’’ the regional director said.
She said that WHO remained committed to supporting Member States to meet their obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Moeti said it include the development and implementation of programmes to promote quitting tobacco in schools, universities, health facilities, workplaces and sporting environments.
She said that services to diagnose tobacco dependence and help people quit, should be included as an integral component in national health and education programmes, plans and strategies.
“I call on governments to improve access to these services, using a combination of approaches, such as toll-free quit lines, nicotine replacement therapy (such as gum, patches, sprays and other products).
“Also digital solutions to empower people to quit. These interventions can be phased where resources are limited.
“Together, let’s support people with the tools and resources needed to successfully quit and to reduce the demand for tobacco. This will save lives, save money and create healthier societies,’’ Moeti said.
By Franca Ofili