WHO Pushes for Tough Anti-Tobacco Rules in Africa
NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) - The World Health Organization Tuesday urged tougher anti-tobacco policies in Africa, but the OAU is worried the drive could undermine political and economic stability if farmers are not given alternatives.
Parliamentarians and health experts from 21 African English-speaking countries are meeting in Nairobi as the WHO whips up support for its tobacco control campaign.
The organization is calling for higher taxes, bans on tobacco advertising, restrictions on smoking in work and public places and active enforcement of the policies. ''Action must be taken to stop this preventable epidemic, and you Honorable Parliamentarians play an important role,'' WHO's regional director for Africa, Dr. Ebrahim Samba, said in a message circulated at the meeting.
But faced with declining economic growth, political uncertainties and a host of other deadly diseases, African governments are calling for caution. ''To curtail the production of tobacco without sustainable and viable choices may create political instability when African economies are either fragile or stagnant,'' the Organization of African Unity's (OAU) Dr. Laban Masimba told the meeting.
Cigarette smoking in Africa has increased steadily in the last decade and is estimated to be 2.5 percent higher than the rate of increase in other developing countries.
Tobacco firms have invested heavily in Africa and contribute huge sums to the coffers of cash-strapped governments which have hesitated to take on the big tobacco firms.
Thousands of people are employed by these companies and the crop itself is grown by millions of peasant farmers.
Tobacco is a key foreign exchange earner for countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi and is also an important cash crop in Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya.
Who Says Tobacco To Become Leading Killer
But WHO hopes to make governments understand that cigarette smoking undermines the health of their populations and dealing with its effects eats substantially into their budgets.
``The goal is not to pressure countries to stop tobacco production but rather work together to develop strategies to assist them in becoming less dependent on tobacco,'' Samba said.
WHO says worldwide, tobacco will soon kill more people than the combined toll from HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and automobile crashes and suicides.
Although WHO has promised to help countries develop alternatives to tobacco growing, the OAU says the problem is far more complex than that.
It cites losses that African countries would run if they reduced tobacco output at a time when the World Trade Organization (news - web sites) is urging global tariff cuts which would result in an expansion of the tobacco market.
The problem of health should be looked at in the context of overall human development, said Masimba, a senior policy officer in the OAU's public health section.
``Factors which impact negatively on human health should be treated as a package rather than in a fragmented manner, he said.''