The World Health Organisation has described the prevailing tobacco epidemic as one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced.
According to WHO, it kills over eight million people globally.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, made this known in her message to commemorate the ‘World No Tobacco Day’, which is celebrated every May, 31.
She said that the world health body joined the rest of the international community to commemorate the 2023 event with the theme, ‘Grow food, not tobacco’.
Moeti disclosed that the aim of the theme is to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encouraging them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops.
“It calls on all of us to explore how food and agricultural policies make adequate nutritious food and healthy diets available while reducing tobacco production,’’ she added.
She revealed that Africa is experiencing an increase, noting that for instance, the number of adult smokers increased in the WHO African Region from an estimated 64 million in 2000 to 73 million in 2018.
“The tobacco industry’s strong marketing campaigns and increased tobacco product production are also contributing factors to this,’’ she said.
Moeti appealed to tobacco-growing countries in the Africa Region to step up the implementation of Articles 17 and 18 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
She suggested that such can be done by enacting legislation, developing, and implementing suitable policies and strategies, and enabling market conditions for tobacco farmers to shift to growing food crops, adding that it would also help their families with a better life while enhancing the protection of the environment and the health of people.
“With such action, we will be growing food, which our populations need, not tobacco,’’ Moeti added.
She stated that the commemoration provides the opportunity to highlight the dangers associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
“Tobacco farming destroys the ecosystems, depletes soils of fertility, contaminates water bodies and pollutes the environment.
“Any profits to be gained from tobacco as a cash crop may not offset the damage done to sustainable food production in low- and middle-income countries.
“Nearly 828 million people are facing hunger globally. Of these, 278 million (20 per cent are in Africa.
“In addition, 57.9 per cent of people in Africa suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity."
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