Kenyan and other African medics have issued a call through the African Harm Reduction Alliance (AHRA) to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to modernise its approach to tobacco policy. This is ahead of the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9).
In a joint letter dated 18 October, the alliance says tobacco harm reduction can contribute to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by cutting premature deaths from four key non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one-third by 2030 compared to 2015.
“Most of the world’s nations are far behind the progress necessary to meet the goal. The only way for tobacco control to make a substantial difference over this period is rapid smoking cessation,” they emphasise.
According to the group, safer alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches and the incorporation of effective tobacco harm reduction into the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The WHO FCTC contains guidelines and requirements for the implementation of the most cost-effective tobacco control measures available.
It came into force on 27 February 2005. It was developed in the recognition that a global strategy was needed to confront a global epidemic that countries cannot address through domestic legislation alone.
The FCTC demands better regulation and increased taxation of tobacco alongside the enforcement of strict rules on marketing, the promotion of smoke-free spaces
In 2017, smoking was identified as Kenya’s leading cause of preventable deaths by the Kenya Ministry of Health.
According to the Tobacco Atlas, over 8,000 deaths occur every year, with 18,000 children and 2.1 million adults using tobacco every day, generating healthcare and economic costs of almost Ksh. 3 billion a year. The country, however, has banned the safer alternatives that most smokers in developed countries have now moved to.
Globally, WHO says tobacco kills up to half of its users and costs more than $1.4 trillion in health expenditures and lost productivity annually.
Speaking at a joint webinar with Campaign for Safer Alternatives, AHRA’s CEO, Dr Delon Human said, “Scientific evidence shows that vaping and nicotine pouches are much less harmful than cigarettes and they can offer smokers their best chance of quitting a lethal habit.
“Public health policies should acknowledge that these potential lifesavers would have a hugely positive impact in low- and middle-income countries, where 90% of deaths for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) occur.”
President of AHRA, Dr Kgosi Letlape, says: “AHRA is urging COP9 delegates and the WHO to pay particular consideration to the plight of Africa, where smoking rates are stagnating or increasing in defiance of global trends.
“Smokers on the continent are desperate for safer alternatives, which are being over-regulated or over-taxed out of their reach. The real issue is the combustion of tobacco, which causes most of the harm. We need evidence-based decision-making and believe the adoption of harm reduction policies and (non-combustible) products in Africa would help prevent 146,000 tobacco-related deaths every year.”
The 182 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) will gather virtually for the ninth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) from 8 – 13 November 2021.