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There Is Need to Stem Female Tobacco Use in Africa

By Simon Mwangi

Countries in the African Region are experiencing an increasing rate of tobacco use. The rapid growth of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa and an increase in consumer purchasing power is leading to larger, ready and more accessible markets in Africa. In addition to that there are the rigorous efforts by the tobacco industry to expand African markets.

Shockingly in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 22,000 women die every year from tobacco-related diseases which are preventable. According to figures obtained from the global body, about two-thirds of adult deaths due to second-hand smoke are among women, mainly those working and living with men who smoke.

Speaking last week during the 72nd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa in Lome, the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) Executive Secretary Leonce Dieudonné Sessou appreciated governments for stepping up initiatives to achieve the reduction of thirty percent in the prevalence of tobacco use by 2025 among people aged 15 years and above.

He further pointed out that there is a considerable increase in tobacco use among African youth and highlighted recent studies which show that the prevalence rate among girls has become as high as for boys. He deplored the fact that these efforts are being hampered by tobacco industry malpractices.

Largely in Africa, women are exposed to tobacco smoke at home and they suffer greater impact when pregnant. In case of tobacco use by family, women bear the indirect cost of the effects because of suppressed incomes as a result of diseases related to tobacco use. On the other hand, they are targeted by tobacco industry and lured to using tobacco at an early age. In societies where smoking by women has been considered a taboo for long, the number of girls and women smokers is increasing. They are also using all kinds of smokeless tobacco products easily available in such societies.

In high-income countries, the tobacco industry has been marketing directly to women, chiefly young women, for nearly a century. More recently, in a trend that is profoundly concerning, it has taken those practices to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where women remain a large and untapped market.

Statistics form the WHO show that about twenty-two thousand women die every year from tobacco-related diseases which are preventable. They further point that between 2002 and 2030, tobacco-attributable deaths are projected to double in low and middle income countries, including in Africa. Even in countries where tobacco use by women is low, they are disproportionately exposed to secondhand smoke in the home and workplaces.

In the era of social media, newspaper and magazine advertising and billboard campaigns may seem outdated. But these traditional mediums are still used by Big Tobacco to reach women, and they are where the industry began sanitizing its marketing techniques at the onset of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

Kenya has high smoking prevalence and in 2014, figures from the Kenyan Ministry of Health showed that 11.6% of the adult population (2.5 million adults, mostly men) used tobacco products, and 10% of 13-15-year-olds (nearly 13% of boys and 7% of girls). Kenya is a major producer of both raw tobacco and manufactured tobacco products, with 17.4 billion cigarettes produced in Kenya in 2016. In addition to being a tobacco growing country, Kenya also serves as a regional hub for the manufacturing of tobacco products.

According to the WHO, women have unique and higher risks of cancer and artery disease. Tobacco causes similar health problems and threats for men and women. But women have unique and higher risks of cervical cancer, breast cancer, coronary artery disease.
Effective policies must be adopted to reduce tobacco use among women and protect women from secondhand smoke.

Published: People Daily 01/09/2022 & The Star 31/08/2022