Stopping Smoking in Africa

The WHO just launched a major tobacco control program in Africa. It’s funded with ten million dollars from the Gates Foundation, and it’s going to focus on building the ability of African governments to enforce controls against tobacco use.

Tobacco tends to get forgotten in global health. Its death toll is frequently underestimated because tobacco tends to make existing illnesses worse. Deaths from emphysema and lung cancer are the smallest part of damage done. The biggest damage is done by all the other illnesses that tobacco contributes to: multiple cancers, high blood pressure and cardiac problems, and respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a killer in the developing world, and tobacco is a big part of that. You don’t see that in the numbers.

So I am glad to see this new effort on tobacco control in Africa. It will be focused on helping governments enforce international treaties on tobacco, and also the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It’s an interesting approach. It’s not focused on getting people to quit smoking or convincing them not to start.

Instead, the effort will be looking at the regulation of tobacco sales and advertising. This seems like a better way to leverage efforts – stop smoking at the source. The biggest part of regulation is not selling it or advertising it to kids, and not allowing sales of single cigarettes. That really might have an impact on smoking. Ten million dollars, though, is not going to go far in a whole continent.