Harmonisation of laws against illicit trade in tobacco in the West African sub-region is on the front burner as experts from ECOWAS converge in Abuja.
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, while declaring the event open described tobacco as the legal drug that kills its users even when exactly used as intended by the manufacturers.
The Minister said the WHO had estimated tobacco use to be currently responsible for the death of about 7 million people annually across the world with 80% of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
“It is alarming to state that nearly 10% of the global cigarette trade is illicit; this is significantly higher in low and middle-income countries, reaching up to 50% and above. It is heartrending to note that West Africa is greatly affected by this illicit trade in tobacco products due to its very porous borders with a proliferation of cheap products in the market.”
He explained that illicit trade poses a severe risk to public health with increased accessibility, affordability and consumption of tobacco product, negative ecological consequences, as well as inflicting significant economic harm and loss in government revenue.
According to Adewole, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control advocates for an increase in the price of tobacco products by raising tobacco tax and levies, as the most cost-effective tobacco control strategy.
He advised that the increased revenue from taxation and reduced consumption of tobacco, should be embraced urgently especially at this time when there is a dire need for effective ways of increasing revenue of government and funding health care across the region.
In his remarks, the Programme Manager Tobacco Control, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Williams Maina said that WHO had been promoting the implementation of WHO Framework convention on Tobacco control, the treaty that was adopted by WHO member states in 2003.
He stressed that one of the key principles of the framework convention was to reduce the demand and supply of tobacco products. These, he suggested would reduce tobacco use in member countries.
“Tobacco is one of the causes of diseases in Africa, by reducing the use of tobacco in Africa we are going to reduce a lot of diseases that are caused by tobacco,” he added.
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