Tobacco: Why Africa must prioritise harm reduction – Expert

On December 6, 2022

By Ngozi Nwoke

Worried by the growing evidence of tobacco use and given its impact on public health, experts from various fields have unanimously agreed to escalate its dangers by awareness creation and education.

The experts spoke at an exchange programme with the theme “Harm Reduction: Making a Difference in Africa.”

Speaking on the need to prioritise harm reduction, a cross section of the discussants noted that there are plethora of researches which suggest that harm reduction is a veritable tool to lower death and diseases.

As part of measures to mitigate the negative consequences of using combustible tobacco products, some health professionals and other critical stakeholders, including tobacco companies, have been championing harm reduction with alternative tobacco products.

Already the use of vaping, heated tobacco, oral nicotine and smokeless tobacco which because of their smokeless nature, drastically reduce risks associated with tobacco smoke, is gaining traction with reports indicating that as of 2021, there are 82 million vapers worldwide.

However, the use of alternative products have been met with stiff opposition from stakeholders, including the World Health Organisation, which has continued to insist on total cessation.

On tobacco harm reduction practices, progress and challenges in Africa’, Joseph Magero, said with the high death toll associated with smoking cigarettes, making alternative products available, accessible and affordable remains the most viable option.

He enquired why policy makers and some activists are against the use of nicotine products stressing that Africa could not afford to lag behind in the area of using alternative tobacco products.

He said: “We have a responsibility to make smokers aware of the alternative products available so they can conveniently make informed decisions.”

For his part, Dr Kgosi Letlape, urged African countries not to heed the World Health Organisation’s advice to ban tobacco products.

“WHO is failing Africa when it comes to tobacco’ Letlape said and enjoined low and middle income countries need to demand for quality scientific advise rather than relying on idiotic policy of banning the products,” he said.