Human rights activists, health practitioners and journalists have expressed dismay and horror over African governments’ stand to promote and campaign for tobacco growing and smoking Parliament cigarettes saying such acts aimed at killing people especially the youth who are targeted by tobacco dealers.
Speaking at a two-day tobacco control journalists’ workshop organised by Health-e News Service and The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) in Johannesburg, South Africa recently, they said deliberate campaigns propagated by African governments and tobacco companies under the pretext of increasing the economy without assessing its devastating effects associated with tobacco left a lot to be desired.
Presenting a paper on “What is the tobacco industry doing in Africa”, executive director for Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum, Lutgard Kokulinda Kagaruki, said some statements made by government officials at different forums and podiums supporting tobacco farming and use on grounds that it was a major foreign exchange earner was not fair and aimed at environmental destruction and harming people especially the youth who were the main target group of the tobacco industry.
“The government of Tanzania collects 340bn/- for five years which is equivalent to 68bn/- per one year but at the same time, it spends over 30m/- per year to treat tobacco-related cancers alone,” she queried.
She explained that in recent years, increased tobacco growing had increased labour demand resulting in human trafficking and slavery in tobacco farming areas in the country. The most targeted in this category are vulnerable groups such as the orphans, old people and jobless young people.
Lutgard said people were bought from within and outside Tanzania between US$50 and US$60 and they were promised to be paid between US$120 and US$180 per year. She explained that sometimes, such people after toiling in hazardous tobacco farms ended up not being paid at all and, hence, being turned into slaves.
He explained that, increased tobacco production had led to massive forest degradation. For example, in 2008/09, Tabora region alone lost 22,558 (55,707m3) hectares of forests worth US$4,100,055 due to tobacco curing whereas in 2010/ 2011, 56,395 (139,268m3) hectares of forests worth US$10,348,087 were lost due to tobacco curing.
For her part, Patricia Lambert, the director for International Legal Consortium of the CTFK in USA, blamed governments for not doing enough to stop tobacco, saying every person should be informed of dangers of tobacco use, addiction, illness and death. She said one in 10 deaths was linked to tobacco and 4.9 million people died each year from tobacco use worldwide.
Patricia further said if the situation was not checked, by 2030, tobacco would be a leading cause of death worldwide with 8 million people dying every year from tobacco use, 80 per cent of the deaths would occur in middle and low-income countries. She said strong political commitment was necessary at national, regional and international levels to be able to evade these deaths.
Dr. Devon Moodley from Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg said tobacco was the single largest cause of cancer in the world and 9 out of 10 people who developed lung cancer were smokers. “Tobacco is the most common cause of cancer deaths in men and women and 30 per cent of all cancer deaths in the world are due to tobacco use,” he explained.
He explained that a single cigarette had 4,000 different chemicals 60 of which were carcinogens, including arsenic (a heavy metal, benzene (a chemical found in gasoline), beryllium (a toxic metal), cadmium (a metal used in batteries), and chromium (a metallic element).
Also in the list are ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilise medical devices), nickel (a metallic element), polonium-210 (a chemical element that gives off radiation), vinyl chloride (a toxic substance used in plastics manufacture) and flavourants such as ammonia, tar and carbon monoxide, among many other elements.
Tanzania has the Tobacco Products (Regulation) Act, 2003 (TPRA, 2003), however, the law has no regulations and lacks effective enforcement, thus leaving loopholes for the tobacco industry to advertise and promote tobacco products and non-prosecution of other defaulters.