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Smoking is declining in the West but rising in Africa

Smoking, a habit so glamorized in Hollywood movies, is on a decline in the United States and in much of the western world. Less than 20 percent of Americans smoke.

Campaigns led by groups such as Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) implanted in the United States but also in the United Kingdom have done much to bring into the limelight the damages smoking causes. It had also worked at banning cigarette commercials or the smoking of cigarettes in public places.

According to an unfortunate study led by the World Health Organization, “nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries.”  Most of those countries are in Africa, and in many of those countries, cigarettes are sold by the stick. This makes smoking affordable to the young and the poor, who can get a stick as cheaply as 7 cents in countries like Nigeria.

Although the smoking rate in Africa is still among the lowest in the world, things are changing fast. Big Tobacco, which holds brands like Dunhill and Pall Mall in its portfolio, built a $150 million factory in Nigeria in 2003. Its competitor Philip Morris on its part built a factory in Senegal.

These companies are basing their market strategy on the single-stick model as well as targeting young people. According to Babatunde Irukera, a Nigerian anti-smoking lawyer, “a single stick is much more affordable, and for young people, it’s easier to conceal.”

Although countries like the Ivory Coast have rolled out campaigns warning against the damages of smoking and have banned smoking in public places, the enforcement of these laws are weak, not to say non-existent.  By 2030, the smoking rate on the continent is expected to reach 40%, thus causing untold health issues.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa recently showed that the continent does not possess healthcare infrastructure able to withstand problematic health issues.  Yes, African governments will do well to enforce laws but the regulating bodies should apply pressure on tobacco groups to act responsibly.

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