Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tobacco Control in Africa: Advocating Through Videos

In 2007, IDRC, Canada, analysed tobacco situation in Africa. Evidence indicated that the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa were in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic. In recent years tobacco consumption in Africa has increased faster than in the developing world as a whole. 

Between 1995 and 2000, tobacco consumption was estimated to have risen by 2.7% in the developing world as a whole, but in Africa by 3.2%, during the same period. The majority of governments in the region were aware of the looming epidemic and its potential for thwarting the development process. 

Under a research project ‘Research for International Tobacco Control (RITC)’ funded by IDRC, Canada, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the initiative aimed at understanding the critical determinants of success for tobacco control in Africa. The initiative aimed at a situation analysis to assess tobacco use, the dynamics of tobacco farming and tobacco control policies (including their level of implementation) in 10 to 14 sub-Saharan African countries. 

The project also aimed to build the technical capacity of African researchers to gather, synthesize and analyze data at the country and the regional level, and the result was used for weighing opportunities and obstacles to tobacco control, assess country readiness and capacity for action, and guide action for tobacco control in Africa. A key element was to ensure the engagement of African stakeholders and global partners in the effort.

WHO’s tobacco control efforts in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) increased its attention to tobacco control in Africa in 2009, with the overall goal of preventing tobacco use from becoming as prevalent there as it is in other parts of the world.

The focus of the programme was on strengthening countries' ability to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), the international health treaty that guides national efforts to counter the tobacco epidemic, and the establishment of a regional centre of excellence to support the development of countries' capacity to resist the spread of tobacco use. 

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of illness and death. It is now common knowledge that if unchecked, it will kill several million people per year by 2030, with more than 80% of those deaths occurring in developing countries. Tobacco use is a risk factor for the major non-communicable diseases – heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diabetes and asthma and other chronic diseases – which together account for 60% of all deaths in the world. In the 46 countries of WHO's Africa region (AFRO), non-communicable diseases are expected to account for 46% of deaths by 2030, up from 25% in 2004.

For the African region, tobacco use is more than a health problem, because of its effect on countries' development. Tobacco breeds poverty, killing people in their most productive years. It consumes family and health-care budgets. The money spent on tobacco products is equal to money not spent on essentials like education, food and medicine, according to experts in the area.

The importance of tobacco lies in its association as the leading preventable cause of death in the world. Actions for tobacco control will prevent young people from starting its use and help current tobacco users to quit, and protect unwilling non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke or passive smoking.

Strengthening the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) is ratified by about 40 out of the 46 countries in the African region, and its implementation through comprehensive tobacco control legislation and capacity building for its effective enforcement is a major challenge for the member states in the African region.

The fast growth of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is leading to larger and more accessible markets and an increase in purchasing power of the African consumers. Intensive efforts by the tobacco industry to expand African markets has had an effect on tobacco consumption. According to reports, countries in the African region are experiencing an increasing rate of tobacco use. The prevalence of tobacco use in African countries is between 8 to 43% for boys and 5 to 30% for girls. 

Observance of No-Tobacco Day in the African Region

Prevention of diseases is clearly the most cost-effective measure. The world over ' World No-tobacco Day' is observed on 31st May to develop mass awareness about tobacco, its harmful effects and necessity to control it. The last year theme for the event was 'The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control' held around the world on 31 May 2011. In the African Region, the event was organised in several countries; reports on events organised in thirteen countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania) are enlisted in the WHO site.

Tobacco in Africa Video Series 

The African region is a new frontier for tobacco companies and the region is witnessing a smoking epidemic. However there is a major effort to promote harmful effects of smoking and tobacco control, and counter tobacco companies’ promotional efforts through videos. These short videos provide an introduction to tobacco use in Africa, some of the successes in addressing the devastating effects of tobacco use, and the challenges to progress, including tobacco industry influence.

The videos have been made in conjunction with the African Tobacco Situation Analysis Project (ATSA), an initiative supported by IDRC in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project helped African advocates and researchers identify barriers and opportunities to tobacco control in their countries. They achieved groundbreaking success by focusing their efforts on key advocacy, policy, and legislative strategies.

These short videos provide an introduction to tobacco use in Africa, successes in addressing the devastating effects of tobacco use, and the challenges to progress, including tobacco industry influence. African advocates and researchers describe the tactics used by tobacco companies to undermine tobacco control efforts.

The African example to promote issues associated with tobacco through videos is a creative mass awareness and education campaign, leading to pressuring the tobacco industry and engaging governments to strengthen legislation. Thus African tobacco control advocates are protecting people from the harmful effects of tobacco use, and having their influence on future of NCDs in Africa.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Zaka! Keep up the great work.

  2. Appreciate your comment on the post, Joao.