Africa in need of a tobacco control policy built on scientific risk assessment

On July 11, 2023

The Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA), an organisation based in Kenya, working with various stakeholders, including policymakers, on key issues like health, reported that Africa must have a tobacco control policy built on scientific risk assessment and a comprehensible communication strategy.
Joseph Magero, Chairman of CASA, presented at the second Harm Reduction Exchange (HRE) workshop for journalists from the Southern Africa region held in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 30, to December 1, 2022, on the theme “Harm Reduction: Making a Difference in Africa.”
The workshop convened by Integrity Africa, an organisation based in South Africa, focussed on sustainable solutions in Africa.
Magero’s presentation focused on tobacco harm reduction, emphasising practices, challenges and progress in Africa.
The discussion focused on the challenges and progress of harm reduction strategies in Africa.
Magero stated that the African continent stands at crossroads in its long journey to reduce the immense health toll from cigarette smoking by millions of its citizens.
“Turn one way at this crossroad, and we will continue to see thousands of Africans needlessly dying every year from tobacco-related diseases,” Magero said.
Magero added that, on the other hand, by turning the other way along the path of tobacco harm reduction, deaths would be prevented, and millions of lives would be saved in the years to come.
CASA believes that Africa should take the latter path as soon as possible before more lives are lost. Magero stated that mounting scientific evidence informs that tobacco harm reduction has multiple benefits for the continent.
He added that the scientific evidence supporting tobacco harm reduction products such as nicotine pouches, snus, patches, gum, and vapes is overwhelming.
On a global level, according to Magero, every year, the main public health body in the United Kingdom publishes an annual review of vaping’s impact.
He added that the review’s most comprehensive study recently affirmed its conclusion that vapes are significantly safer than combustible cigarettes and are the most effective tool for helping smokers quit.
“It’s no wonder then that health authorities in the UK and other wealthy countries around the world are embracing vapes as part of their programmes to reduce tobacco use to 5 per cent or less of their population,” stated Magero.
It is also reported that smoking rates decrease as vaping rates in the countries increase.
Sweden will become the first nation to reach the 5 per cent target. This level is officially classified as smoke-free, Magero said, adding that developed world countries have achieved this progress by making safer alternatives to cigarettes available and affordable for adult smokers.
He also noted that Sweden has the highest consumption of nicotine pouches but the lowest smoking and tobacco-related disease rates in Europe. “Tellingly, Sweden’s tobacco-related mortality rate is 44 per cent lower than elsewhere in Europe.”
He revealed that the Food and Drug Administration in the USA says pouches will significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual tobacco users and benefit the population’s health.
CASA believes that such success stories developing in Europe deserve serious consideration in Africa, where smoking rates differ.
The Tobacco Atlas report of May 2022 stated that smoking rates had declined globally for the first time on record.
However, Magero said that Africa could not share in the celebrations. He shared that the report found smoking rates had increased in 10 countries on the African continent.
In some African countries, rates remain stubbornly high. Magero believed that the solution to the challenges affecting the African continent rests on correctly informing people about the risks of combustible cigarettes and potential journeys to quit.
He added that that would be ideal, but sadly, it’s not happening because misinformation is prevalent in most of Africa concerning tobacco harm reduction solutions.
“It is more than disappointing to see how tobacco harm reduction products are officially regarded across our continent,” he said.
He said that the life-saving products have been met with open hostility and ignorance from some activists and pressure groups in Africa who have mistakenly refused to distinguish between cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine.
The chief hurdles being faced in Africa, he believed, are a lack of knowledge and an abundance of misinformation. Despite these systematic obstacles, tobacco harm reduction advocacy in Africa continues to push forward. He stressed that many organisations around the continent are trying to bring about policy change that can save lives. However, he believes that CASA is one of the organisations that is already having a positive impact on the continent.
He added that Africa’s policymakers should be drawing from global best practices and implementing policies that enable smokers to make informed choices and recognise the life-saving potential of alternative nicotine products.
“The continent needs to continue having the conversations until all Africans are heading to a healthier future,” he concluded.

This article first appeared on, 11th July 2023.