The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged the Ministry of Health (MOH) to include tobacco control in the national Policies, Plans and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation frameworks.
It also encouraged the full implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which is the world’s most powerful tool to tackle tobacco’s negative impact on development, by adopting measures such as rising taxes, to reduce demand for the drug.
Dr Owen Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative, made the call on Wednesday, at the commemoration of the 2017 World No-Tobacco Day in Accra on, which was on the theme: “Tobacco-a threat to development.”
He said the year’s theme stemmed from the fact that tobacco posed a major barrier to sustainable development, with widespread impact on health, poverty, global hunger, economic growth, gender equality, environment, education, finance as well as governance.
He said the strengthening of key policy measures for the control of illicit trade in tobacco and its products, as well as increased support for other economically viable alternative crop production as part of an effective and comprehensive strategy to restrict youth access was crucial for the achievement of the SDGs.
He suggested that the revenue generated from such high taxes for governments, could be used to finance universal health coverage, health promotion as well as other development programmes.
“Globally, tobacco kills more that 7.2 million people per year, with over 80 per cent from low-or middle-income countries. In the African Region, about 146,000 adults aged 30… and above die every year from tobacco-related diseases,” he said.
Mr Kaluwa said up to half of all tobacco users would die prematurely from the related causes, while on the average, users would lose 15 years of their lives, making the drug use one of the leading preventable risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer and chronic lung diseases, as well as diabetes.
In Ghana about three million people used tobacco with the three northern regions recording the highest, while four per cent of junior high school students were also found to be involved in the use of the drug.
He said tobacco control was seen as one of the most effective means to achieve the SDG target 3.4, of achieving one-third reduction by 2030, of premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, and also a unique and cost-effective solution to the numerous challenges posed in areas including health, labour, agriculture, and trade.
According to him, for the African Region, the cost of healthcare from tobacco smoking was 3.5 per cent of the total health expenditure each year, but apart from the heavy economic burden that tobacco use imposes on the nation and decreased productivity, it worsened health inequalities and exacerbated poverty, as the poorest people sent less on essentials like food, education and health care.
The tobacco industry, he said, was increasingly targeting women and girls, who often worked on the farms, while children of families who cultivated the drug, were involved in child labour, exposing them to green tobacco sickness and health hazards from pesticides, smoke and the inhalation of its dust.
Mr Kaluwa said countries could benefit from successfully controlling the tobacco epidemic by protecting their populations to reduce the impact on national economies.
He said it was part of the aim of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to ensure that “no one was left behind”.
Dr Kyei- Faried, a Director and the Focal Point at the Tobacco Control Unit of the Ghana Health Service, said the theme was a step in the right direction since the country was aiming to attaining the SDG Three, which seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for, all at all ages.
He said his outfit would embark on a massive education and sensitisation campaign as well as join in a Global Youth Tobacco Survey to find out smoking habits among students in order to put proper measures in place to curb it, and further mount pressure on the government to increase taxes on tobacco products in order to reduce its demand.
He said a number of initiatives and interventions including the ban of smoking in public places were already in place, whereas education and awareness creation were still on-going to ensure attitudinal change.
Kobby Blay is the chief health editor at Ghanahealthnest.com. A professional practicing nurse with specialty in mental health and focus for health communications, public health, medical/documentary photography, ICT and systems perspective for health improvement.