The World is a funny, complex, progressive and regressive place in many ways. My Perspectives is a space where I will be sharing my perspectives of the world. My focus will be on sociopolitical, environmental politics and socio-justice matters. Come, join the discussion!
On my way from Church last Sunday afternoon, I almost ‘attacked’ a fellow commuter on the Subway! A verbal attack… but I think my facial expression did it all. A young man of approximate age between 17 and 20 years of age got on the subway ‘smoking’, my stomach garbled with disgust. However, and to my surprise the ‘cigarette’ in the young man’s hand was not emitting throat-cutting and sinus irritating smoke as the ones I have had trouble with in the streets. As curiosity got the best of me, I could not hold back. I inquired what it was and my ‘protagonist’ swiftly came to my aid by saying enlightening me that, “this is an electric cigarette also known as Vaporiser. I am trying to quit”. This was a relief..!
The United Republic of Tanzania enacted the Tanzanian Tobacco Products (Regulation) Act 2003 to protect the following groups of people: “persons under eighteen and other non-smokers from inducements to use tobacco products; non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke” (Tobacco Products (Regulation) Act, 2003; No.2 Part I, 3a,b. Pg. 5). The Act does not stop at that but also stipulates that the tobacco products manufacturers must follow proper branding methods which includes information about smoking risks (c), and should be ‘health-ical’ as to “[promote] a climate that will lead to a smoking-free atmosphere in all walks of life TPR Act 2003n No. 2, Part I, 3e).
Tobacco Economics, Partisan Politics or People’s Health?
The stated concerns on the Act are all valid. Tanzania took the lead in East Africa to ban smoking in public in 2003. With similar backdrop of concerns other East African countries enacted laws to ban smoking in public spaces. Uganda banned smoking in Public in 2004, Kenya in 2006, and Rwanda in 2012. Even though ‘health concerns’ were the highlights for enacting [the] laws prohibiting smoking in public, there is no law prohibiting tobacco farming!
The irony of all this is that even though health concerns are valid, tobacco farming and tobacco business has been one of the parts in the economic engine in East African states and communities. Reporting on this matter, BBC News and other News outlets in East Africa decried this move describing it as ‘bad for business.’ East Africa Business Week (Kampala) reporting on Rwanda banning smoking in public read, “In its current form, the law will be deemed by observers as quite hard on industry players because of some stunning clauses in it […] as for farmers, anyone seeking to grow tobacco on more than half a hectare of land must seek a permit from government”. At the introduction of laws banning smoking in public in Kenya BBC News Africa reported that the “British America Tobacco’s (BAT) Kenya […] sent a protest note to the health ministry asking them to revoke the new directive until consultations are held”. The protests came amid reports that “tobacco killed some 12,000 Kenyans each year and a public ban would reduce that figure.”
Tanzania, as a championing state in enacting the ban on smoking in public took a more political stance on the matter. News reports gave a sense that what mattered to Tanzanian legislators was not really people’s welfare as enshrined in the Tobacco Products (Regulation) Act 2003. All they cared for was for CCM to win. The news reports read, “MPs from the tobacco growing regions cautioned the government against passing the law, expressing fears that the ruling party might lose votes from tobacco farmers in the 2005 general election,” BBC News Africa.
I know and believe that most of us know that tobacco is clearly big business to the manufacturing companies. But whereas indicators show that tobacco smoking is on the decrease in the rich part of the world, the tobacco giants are going after the markets in developing countries to ensure continuing expansion and large profits.
Engendering Smoking Statistics
Statistically, 47.5 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women smoke. Whereas 22 percent of the women in Western countries smoke, the figure for developing countries is only 10 percent. This is on a global level. A study conducted in 2005 revealed that “Tobacco companies have for a long time examined sex-based differences in smoking habits in order to increase nicotine dependence among women in the West and in developing countries.”
Why women smoke, smoking patterns, and choice of products have been surveyed in detail and form the basis for marketing campaigns, which in developing countries largely do not meet opposition. Even children’s clothing is furnished with the cigarette brands’ logos. The effect has not been long in coming: Africa is now the continent where the recruiting of new smokers is greatest and where relatively most women start smoking. But wait… is this an African trend or worldwide phenomenon?
Tobacco use is increasing most in developing countries with a certain economic development. Nevertheless, studies show that even the poorest families in low-income countries can use up to 10 percent of their income on tobacco. The cigarettes are bought one at a time, and control of money usage disappears. There is therefore less money left for food, education, and health.
Tobacco Smoking and Human Mortality
A couple of years ago, may be more, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that smoking is in the process of becoming a huge problem for developing countries. Today more than 80 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion smokers are already to be found in developing countries, and this is also where most new smokers are to be found.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the negative consequences of tobacco will gradually be shifted onto developing countries. During the next thirty years the number of tobacco-related diseases in developing countries will increase by 700 percent. In 2000, 2 million people died of tobacco use in the rich part of the world, and the same number in developing countries. In 2030 the situation will have changed radically, with 3 million deaths annually in Western countries and a total of 7 million in developing countries.
Today the WHO reports that, “Tobacco smoking currently kills five million people a year worldwide and, according to estimates, will probably kill eight million people a year between now and 2030 and one billion over the course of the 21st century.” Already now more people are dying of cancer than of AIDS in poor countries, and a third of all the cancer deaths are due to smoking. Human lives and resources that these countries badly need for development will therefore disappear in smoke – literally. The tobacco industry does not sell raw materials but produces a highly industrial product composed to create nicotine dependence.
Tobacco giants with a turnover that is often greater than a developing country’s domestic product carry out extensive corruption of politicians, bureaucrats, and journalists. They pay TV channels and radio stations for favourable publicity and carry out open and covert operations to prevent developing countries from developing an effective tobacco control.
Tobacco Giants and Accountability
A report from Corporate Accountability International shows various strategies to undermine health policy. British American Tobacco (BAT) has 75 percent of the cigarette market in densely populated Nigeria and is known to bribe important bureaucrats, government employees, and media people in the country. Cigarette companies are supposed to use their resources to prepare alternative health policy documents that in practice make the tobacco legislation weak. Simultaneously they make this look like part of their social responsibility and their contribution to the development of tobacco-controlling measures.
World Health Organisation (WHO) supports the convention on tobacco control – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The treaty not only smoothes the path for measures such as advertising bans and non-smoking areas but also prepares the way for an active protection of the countries’ health policy against the tobacco industry’s open or covert interference.
The tobacco industry’s main strategies to increase the demand for tobacco products – advertising, marketing, and political interference – should be attacked frontally. It is therefore not coincidental that the tobacco industry is mobilizing all forces in order to water down the convention as much as possible.
A survey conducted in Burundi by WHO and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), findings in Burundi revealed that “26.9% think boys and 14.1% think girls who smoke have more friends, and 11.3% think boys and 11.8% think girls who smoke look more attractive.” Whereas the advertisements make smokers and or potential smokers feel that smoking is ‘cool’ activity, the worst impacts lurks behind every puff and blow. Until now, 110 countries have imposed a ban on smoking in public spaces. Enacting a law and enforcement of the ‘no-smoke-in-public’ laws is another, which renders effectiveness of such bans questionable. A government which cares for the wellbeing of its citizenry will and should make some rule to stop this devious trait. As much as this is the responsibility of the government from a policy framework angle, I believe that it is also a communal responsibility – to protect and safeguard the human population at all cost.