Southern African Countries Discuss Ways to Control Tobacco Epidemic

June 3, 2012

  • African countries are experiencing the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use among developing countries
  • A recent forum provided the platform for Southern African country representatives to discuss the rise of tobacco use
  • The forum was jointly organized by the Botswana government, the World Bank, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

GABORONE, June 3, 2012 – More than 120 participants from 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC)-member countries, including Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe gathered for the recent “The Economics of Tobacco Control: Taxation and IIIicit Trade” forum to share knowledge on the dimensions, causes and the extent of tobacco use in the Southern African region, and strategies to control it.

The forum was hosted by the Government of Botswana, organized by the World Bank and cosponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, SADC and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The Honorable Reverend Dr. John Seakgosing, Bostwana’s Minister of Health, called on African countries to unite to fight tobacco use.

" “A renewed push to control the escalation of the tobacco epidemic requires that governments and leaders, with the support of civil societies and international organizations, courageously and effectively implement commitments under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” "

Honorable Reverend Dr. John Seakgosing

Bostwana’s Minister of Health

The Minister also emphasized the need for a coordinated multisectoral action within and between countries to prevent the negative health consequences caused by tobacco use.

Many African countries, including the SADC-member countries, are experiencing the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use among developing countries. While cigarette consumption in Western Europe dropped by 26% between 1990 and 2009, it increased in Africa and the Middle East by 57% during the same period.

This change reflects the impact of effective tobacco control legislation, policies, and measures adopted by many developed countries, as well as the increasing understanding of their populations about the health risks of smoking. As highlighted by WHO, tobacco use in any form is the single most preventable cause of death.  In 2011, this global tobacco epidemic killed almost six million people, with nearly 80 percent of these deaths occurring in low-and middle-income countries. Worldwide, approximately 600,000 nonsmokers died in 2011 from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke at home, workplace, and public areas such as a restaurant, schools, and even in hospitals.

The forum also promote dialogue on best practices in effective design and administration of tobacco taxes as one of the most effective and important instruments to promote public health, as well as analyze the link between enhanced tax administration and combating domestic and cross-border illicit trade practices. 

Indeed, as argued during the forum, tobacco tax increases that lead to higher cigarette prices, not only encourages smokers to quit but prevent initiation among youth. Estimates presented at the forum showed that a 10% increase in cigarette prices reduces cigarette demand by two to eight percent in low-and middle-income countries.

"Tobacco is a leading killer not only in Africa but across the world,” said Patricio V. Marquez, World Bank Lead Specialist.  “This forum, by involving, high level officials from different sectors, served to underscore the potential of multisectoral collaboration and action to prevent and control tobacco addiction that contributes to ill health, premature mortality and disability in the African countries."

Some representatives from the Ministries of Trade agreed there is a need for some of the tobacco-producing countries in the regions to look for alternatives that will support agricultural diversification. They said they knew that it was a challenge to depend on only one crop, however, millions of people in the region relied on growing tobacco for their livelihoods. The countries with international assistance needed to think creatively about how to further economic development through other means, they said.

South-South learning events serve as knowledge exchange platforms said Constantine Chikosi, World Bank Country Manager for Botswana.

“The high level of engagement and participation shown by the 14 country delegations who attended was testimony to its relevance for their policy agendas,” Chikosi said. “Being part of a series of peer-to-peer, South-South learning events the Bank has staged in Gaborone in the last 12 months, and in which Botswana is emerging as a knowledge exchange platform, we are implementing the Bank's Africa Strategy.”

The forum succeeded in bringing together high level representatives from across the Health, Finance, Trade and Customs Ministries of 14 Southern African countries, as well as representatives from the Attorney General and Police Commissioner Offices in Botswana. A representative of the Bloomberg Philanthropies said the forum was unprecedented in the five-year history of the Bloomberg Tobacco Control Initiative across the world.