Tobacco Use in Africa
Compared to the rest of the world, tobacco use in Africa is relatively low. A 2019 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that in 2000, the African region had a tobacco use prevalence rate of 18.5%, the lowest of any of the WHO regions.

However, as economic development in Africa continues to rise, with countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda seeing unprecedented expansion, tobacco consumption has also increased. The WHO now predicts that tobacco-related deaths are likely to double in the coming years within low and middle-income countries, many of which are in Africa.

Rising tobacco use is likely to have a detrimental effect on developing countries. The infrastructure to deal with the associated health issues is simply not in place. Facing this problem early will be crucial in giving African nations the best chance of reducing poverty and improving standards of living, along with overall health.

Targeting Emerging Economies

People commonly associate economic growth with positive changes, such as job opportunities and more money in our pockets. However, as consumers find they have more money to spend, companies are eager to market products to them. This includes the tobacco industry. In 2013, a committee of experts that the Network of African Science Academies convened found that “As the use of tobacco has declined in high-income countries, the tobacco industry has increasingly turned to low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, to recruit new users.”

Tobacco manufacturers have used specific tactics to promote their products in African countries. According to a 2021 report published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, companies have encouraged local traders to sell individual cigarettes to attract young and low-income customers. Tobacco companies have also used promotional tactics, such as price reductions, coupons and giveaways, even though these practices are usually against the law.

Unfortunately for some African nations, as the economy has grown, the number of smokers has followed suit. For example, as the annual GDP consistently grew from 2009 to 2014 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tobacco use also increased.

The Burden on Health Care

Research has well documented that tobacco use causes health issues, such as cancer, stroke and lung disease. These are known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and case numbers are rising in Africa. This poses a problem for healthcare infrastructure. The World Economic Forum reported that most NCDs undergo treatment in large city hospitals, placing an additional burden on rural patients. Furthermore, many hospitals simply do not have the resources to treat so many cases.

Another factor to consider is the prevalence of infectious diseases, such as malaria, HIV and COVID-19. These afflictions have been a persistent burden on healthcare systems described as “fragile, fragmented, under-resourced and limited.” Increasing tobacco consumption will only exacerbate this problem.

The Effect on Poverty

Tobacco companies often cite job creation to justify their presence in developing countries. They go on to suggest that increasing taxes on tobacco products will cause people to lose their jobs.

Some developing countries indeed have tobacco-dependent economies. For example, a 2009 study found that Malawi relies on tobacco exports for 70% of its foreign earnings. However, placing more restrictions on tobacco could actually be beneficial for Malawi. It could “diversify [its] economy” and open it up to foreign aid for funding other industries.

Dr. Kenneth E. Warner made this same argument in his 1999 article, “The Economics of Tobacco: Myths and Realities,” published in Tobacco Control. Essentially, he stated that if a country is no longer dependent on the tobacco industry, this does not mean that it has no other industry to rely on. Resources can go toward developing other industries and consumers can spend their money elsewhere, generating new jobs.

The myth of economic development through tobacco is further debunked when one considers the financial burden of addiction. Studies found that rising tobacco use in Africa will exacerbate poverty. Money spent on tobacco products and the cost of treatment for associated diseases could cripple low-income families by affecting employment, not to mention the debilitating effects that these diseases cause.

Implementing Solutions

Thankfully, many African nations are taking measures to prevent their economies from becoming overly dependent on tobacco. Uganda is one of these nations. In 2015, the Ugandan government passed the National Tobacco Control Act, prohibiting tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21. It also banned smoking in public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, and banned the advertising of tobacco products.

In recent years, media campaigns launched in Uganda, educating the public on the economic and health risks associated with tobacco use. They have also advocated for harsher taxation on tobacco products, which would generate funding for further tobacco control measures.

Another positive step is that 51 out of 54 countries in Africa have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, thereby committing to implementing policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Tackling rising tobacco use in Africa is instrumental in reducing poverty and moving forward. Funding tobacco control measures is an important step in releasing pressure on African healthcare systems. It is time for the world to leave smoking in the past.

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Unsplash

Tobacco Control Reduces Poverty
Tobacco and global poverty have an often overlooked connection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in many low-income countries, spending on tobacco products often represent more than 10 percent of total household expenditure.”

The WHO, the U.N. and other international organizations have recognized and researched this link to decrease tobacco use and poverty rates. Here are five ways tobacco control reduces poverty globally:

1. Tobacco control will relieve financial hardships.

Tobacco addictions exacerbate an already stressful financial situation for those living in poverty.

Families, as a result, have less to spend on food, education, healthcare and other necessities. Bangladesh, for example, spends 10 times the amount on tobacco than on education. Tobacco control reduces poverty by helping families spend less on tobacco, freeing up more income to spend on necessities.

2. Tobacco control will save lives.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 6 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide per year. Tobacco users die 10 years earlier than non-users. Smoking also causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Tobacco control is known as one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption. Its implementation would reduce the amount of smoking-related illnesses, keeping more workers in the labor force and ease health care expenditures for families.

3. Tobacco control will reduce exploitation.

Tobacco also affects those who produce it. Farmers who produce tobacco on a small-scale in developing countries depend heavily on the tobacco industry. Although large corporations provide credit for farmers, including seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and technological support, they expect the farmers to forgo profits and sell at the company’s contract price. This is further evidence that tobacco control reduces poverty.

Furthermore, farmers’ children have saved the tobacco industry an estimated $1.2 billion in production costs through unpaid child labor. The industry employs 63 percent of children in tobacco-farming families, preventing 10-14 percent from attending school for work’s sake.

The lack of education drives individuals deeper into poverty. Tobacco control reduces poverty not only by giving farmers better opportunities to provide for themselves, but also eliminating the need for children to sacrifice school for work, ultimately granting them the chance to move up social classes in the future.

4. Tobacco control will improve economies.

Tobacco takes away 1-2 percent of the world’s GDP annually. A 2011 WHO report found that governments can introduce effective tobacco control measures for as little as $0.11 per person per year. If governments allocated the extra revenue from such taxes to their health budgets, WHO found this year in a report that “public expenditure on health would increase by four percent globally.”

Currently, the costs of tobacco production outweigh the profits. For example, although Tanzania earns $50 million from tobacco sales annually, the African country spends $40 million on health care for tobacco-related cancers.

Tobacco control in the form of taxes would increase government revenue and funds for the poor.

5. Tobacco control will help the achieve the SDGs.

The U.N.’s Division for Sustainable Development seeks to reduce poverty and coordinate the 17 internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aforementioned effects of tobacco control directly align themselves with the SDGs, as they include no poverty or hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and economic growth worldwide by 2030.

Because of its negative byproducts, tobacco use is considered a hindrance to global development.

However, with proper tobacco control, individuals, governments and organizations believe it can provide sustainable benefits.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Pixabay