There is nothing cool about smoking

What you need to know:

  • Globally, authorities have intensified anti-smoking campaigns to preserve citizens’ health and save tax-payers millions, if not billions in the long term.

On “World No Tobacco Day 2018” yesterday, medical experts again urged smokers to abandon their dangerous habit and governments to ensure that youngsters are not lured into such addiction.

Globally, authorities have intensified anti-smoking campaigns to preserve citizens’ health and save tax-payers millions, if not billions in the long term. Although the tobacco industry pays some taxes, the costs of smoking-related issues and illnesses exceed this tax revenue. As tobacco still kills millions every year, control strategies must continue. Advertising bans, plain packaging, smoke-free environments, quit programmes and education have proven effective. The number of smokers in many countries has declined. In low- and middle-income countries, however, tobacco marketing now targets women and adolescents, even school children, to compensate for shrinking traditional markets where citizens recognise smoking as a cause of lung cancer and deadly health issues like stroke, heart disease, emphysema, aneurysms, low infant birth weight and asthma.

According to the WHO, many global citizens still do not recognise these health risks. In China, over 60 per cent of people do not see smoking as linked to heart attacks. In Indonesia and India, over 50 per cent of adults do not connect it to strokes. Brazenly, tobacco companies target less educated, vulnerable populations. Ultimately, unless governments intervene, tobacco will claim countless lives and smoking-related healthcare costs will cripple economies.

In Tanzania, only a small minority smokes. However, new threats like Shisha smoking are emerging, luring young people into addiction. Shisha smoking is promoted as a trendy lifestyle but marketers prefer not to mention that the amount of smoke typically inhaled by a shisha smoker over one hour equates to smoking over 100 cigarettes.

Primary school curricula must address the issue of smoking to avoid Tanzania’s youth being misled by aggressive marketing like in the Asia-Pacific region, where tobacco companies sponsor concerts, sporting events and even schools. In contrast, in nations heavily investing in pre-emptive measures, including education, fewer youngsters take up the deadly habit. Tobacco taxes are effective, and also increase government revenue, thus funding healthcare and other vital services like education and infrastructure.

The tobacco lobby must not intimidate politicians with potential job losses. The number of employees in the tobacco industry is small compared to other agricultural sectors and tobacco farming does not alleviate poverty. In 2013, the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa reported that high interest loans given to farmers by tobacco companies tend to create a vicious cycle of debt, “a form of bondage”, especially when tobacco companies further increase farmers’ dependency by selling them all seeds and fertilizers needed.

In 2011, the WHO estimated the market share of one leading tobacco firm in Uganda to be 85 per cent. In such monopolistic conditions, tobacco companies can control information and stop farmers from growing alternative crops. If tobacco giants control most aspects of farmers’ lives, farmers still worry about the environment and their community’s health, but are too afraid to risk breaking free with alternative crops.

Many growers remain unaware that tobacco farming damages their own and their workers’ health. Furthermore, while forests surrounding their villages disappear, as in the Tabora and Urambo regions, deforestation accelerates climate change and increases extreme weather events. The unsustainable farming practices promoted by the tobacco industry contribute to acute water shortages.

Studying woodland deforestation, including thousands of hectares lost in the Miombo forests, the Sokoine University of Agriculture warned that “the high demands of wood for the tobacco industry can […] no longer be sustained”. As forests disappear, farmers’ livelihoods are threatened by climate change. In addition to the health hazards linked to tobacco farmers’ and curers’ work, food security is compromised. As farmers cannot eat tobacco, the cultivation of alternative, sustainable crops like maize, sunflower and groundnut should be sponsored to reduce farmers’ dependence on multi-national tobacco companies and help them feed their communities.

Tanzania cannot become complacent. Citizens must be protected from the perils of non-sustainable industries which contribute little to the progress of the nation but hurt its health.