There are an estimated 640,000 tobacco users in Sierra Leone and smoking prevalence is increasing – particularly among men and youth. Tobacco use is extremely harmful for health and is one of the world’s leading causes of premature death. Tobacco kills half of all long-term smokers from many different non-communicable diseases including cancer, lung and heart disease.
Senior officials from the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Secretariat, WHO, and United Nations Development Programme have joined the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in calling for accelerated action to reduce tobacco consumption in Sierra Leone. The call was made at a major national meeting of stakeholders in Freetown today.
Tobacco is also a major barrier to development, bringing vast economic, social and environmental costs to individuals and counties. The World Bank says that tobacco costs the global economy an estimated $1.4 trillion USD each year in economic costs including treating sickness and lost productivity.
“Tobacco not only steals lives; it exacerbates poverty, damages the environment, and creates immense burdens on national health systems,” said Andrew Black, Development Assistance Team Leader from the FCTC 2030 Secretariat, who is visiting Sierra Leone this week from Geneva. “As we look towards accelerated implementation of the WHO FCTC, we look forward to continuing our work with the Government and partners in tackling the growing prevalence of tobacco use in Sierra Leone.”
In March 2017, Sierra Leone became one of just 15 low and middle-income countries to benefit from the FCTC 2030 Project. Led by the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC in collaboration with WHO and UNDP, FCTC 2030 provides intensive support to governments so that they can implement effective, evidence-based tobacco control measures. The project is generously funded by the UK and Australian governments.
Such tobacco control measures include: banning all tobacco advertising and sponsorship; creation of smoke-free public and work places; effective health warnings for all tobacco packaging; stopping young people from buying tobacco, public awareness campaigns that educate the public about health risks, and strengthening tobacco taxation.
“Tobacco use is projected to increase rapidly in Sierra Leone, and we call for all hands on deck, from government ministries to policy makers, the private sector and civil society to urgently protect our people from this growing threat,” said Dr. Alie Wurie, Director of Non-communicable Diseases in Sierra Leone. “Through the duration of this project and beyond, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation will make tobacco control a national priority, through prevention, legislation and education of the public on tobacco’s health dangers and costs.”
“The Government of Sierra Leone has just passed a law for a 30% excise tax on tobacco products, which is a major win for public health,” he added. “It is also establishing a dedicated multi-sectoral tobacco control task force, which will support finalization and implementation of a new national strategy for tobacco control in Sierra Leone.”
“While joining the FCTC 2030 is a great opportunity for Sierra Leone, there is still growing consumption of tobacco which puts the health and wellbeing of users and their families at risk. Without urgent action, tobacco will place an increasingly heavy toll on Sierra Leone’s healthcare system,” said Alexander Chimbaru, Officer in Charge at WHO Sierra Leone.
Globally, tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 890,000 are attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke.
By Ophaniel Gooding
Wednesday February 14, 2018.