The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that six million people die prematurely every year because of the consumption of tobacco products. The organization estimates that if nothing changes, there will be more than one billion smokers worldwide by 2025.
In recent years, various products considered less harmful alternatives to the conventional cigarette have been designed, but their acceptance meets stubborn resistance.
The Network of Journalists Observers of the Nicotine and Tobacco Industry(REJOINT)[i] organized a seminar in Bamako on May 19th and 20th, 2017. About fifty journalists members of the network from 15 African and French-speaking countries, attended the meeting.
According to the organizers, it was an opportunity for the members of the Network to reflect on the tobacco industry related issues and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In a world where life expectancy is constantly improving thanks to the emergence of new technologies that continuously reshape the everyday life of citizens, some tobacco industry players have invested huge amounts of money in Research and Development in order to offer potentially less harmful products and more appropriate to our time.
Philip Morris International (PMI), one of the world leaders in the industry, is among the group adopting this approach. It has just launched a "transformation" program aimed ultimately at replacing combustible cigarettes with potentially less harmful products.
The Director of Institutional Affairs of Philip Morris in West Africa repeated his company's commitment to a "world without tobacco smoke": "We are determined to transform ourselves and we are making every effort for it. However, it will take time and we cannot do it alone. We need the support of regulators (governments, organizations, WHO), the scientific and medical community, the civil society, consumers. We will succeed in our transformation only with the support of all the stakeholders."
He added that "This does not stop the governments in their efforts to prevent tobacco initiation and to encourage quitting. In our view, reducing the harmfulness of tobacco should be complementary to prevention and efforts to stop smoking, not in competition. What we are saying is that our new products are potentially less harmful and that they are a much better choice for smokers who wish to continue their habit. Let's say it again, these products are not intended for non-smokers or those who wish to stop smoking."
One of the objectives of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to reduce by 30% the prevalence of smoking by 2025. One of the solutions proposed to achieve the overall objective of reducing non-communicable diseases would be to switch from conventional tobacco products to low-risk products such as heated tobacco products or electronic cigarettes which are combustion free. The leading causes of tobacco-related illnesses are all the toxic substances in cigarette smoke, most of which are generated during tobacco combustion.
In September 2015, the international community - through the United Nations (UN) - adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of 17 ambitious and precise goals to be achieved by 2030 for a better world in which both humans and nature are fully developed.
Achieving the SDGs requires an increased and sustained public-private partnership to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, provide good health and well-being to all, provide quality education and achieve gender equality among other goals.
Among these objectives adopted by 193 UN member states, Goal 3 on the health and well-being of all appears to be a major condition for achieving SDGs. Obviously, without good health, it becomes an illusion to tackle other SDGs.
According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, cancer, heart diseases and respiratory diseases, are one of the greatest public health hazards of the 21st century.
Therefore it is clear that achieving the SDGs requires addressing the causes of Non-Communicable Diseases and smoking is one of them. "Smoking is a public health issue. For this reason journalists must start the debate and share the different points of views of all the stakeholders with the public" according to the organizer of the seminar.
It is important that the various stakeholders engage in a discussion on all the aspects of the future of tobacco. Otherwise, the implementation of new technologies into the industry - now presented as a great opportunity to fight tobacco use - will not meet the public health goals and hundreds of millions of people will continue to suffer or even die from smoking.
It is now crucial that the media in our Region foster this debate which is about society, health and economy, so that the populations and the States become fully aware of the issues of the moment and the future of our societies faced with the scourge of smoking.
[i] REJOINT, Réseau des Journalistes Observateurs de l'Industrie de la Nicotine et du Tabac, is an independent and informal network of Francophone African journalists interested in issues related to the tobacco and nicotine industry as well as all related subjects such as health, economy, security, and Tobacco control.