On World No Tobacco Day, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation joined WHO and partners in calling for a halt to the tobacco epidemic, asking communities, businesses, health workers and individuals to take a pledge to end tobacco use in Sierra Leone.
They noted that globally tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year, and is a leading but preventable risk factor for heart disease and cancer.
According to a release from the World Health Organization, the day was commemorated at a symposium and health fair at the National Stadium, as well as outreach in schools. The event highlighted the many health impacts of tobacco use, and the particular damage it causes to cardiovascular health.
The organisers stated that evidence shows that as many as half of all tobacco users (including people who smoke cigarettes, chew or sniff tobacco and use shisha) will die prematurely from tobacco-related causes, while tobacco was linked to 1 in 10 heart disease deaths.
Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Anthony Sandi, pledged that the ministry would continue to lead efforts to advance anti-tobacco policy and legislation, and help deliver robust awareness programmes. "We are committed to implementing effective interventions that support prevention and control efforts. For the public, media and community leaders, we ask you to join us in raising awareness on the harmful health impacts of tobacco, especially among our youth," he added.
'Common forms of tobacco use include smoking of cigarettes, cigars and pipes, chewing and sniffing tobacco ('snuff') and use of shisha. All such forms, as well as exposure to secondhand smoke, are linked to significantly increased risks of cardiovascular disease, cancers, infertility, complications in pregnancy (when pregnant women are exposed) and other serious health conditions,' the release states.
The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke (by those who are in proximity to smokers, whether indoors or outdoors) causes around 900,000 premature deaths globally each year. Close to one third of these are among children.
"We are pleased to be supporting the Government in advancing tobacco control in Sierra Leone, and together with health partners, strongly advocate for a rapid uptake of anti-tobacco law and policy that will protect the public from its devastating health harms," said Janet Kayita, Officer in Charge at WHO Sierra Leone. "No one should get sick or die because of tobacco, and action to reduce consumption of this product is critical for ensuring a healthier future for Sierra Leone."
Currently, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation is leading the development of a draft Tobacco Control Bill relating to the consumption, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Once passed, this Bill, which draws on evidence from countries that have implemented effective tobacco control measures worldwide, would provide landmark protection against tobacco's major health, social and environmental harms.
Dr. Santigie Sesay, the Ministry's new Director for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health acknowledged the strong partnerships that had made the No Tobacco symposium and health fair possible, and commended the youth who were helping raise awareness on the dangers of tobacco use among their peers. "Tobacco breaks hearts and affects almost every aspect of the body, and I hope we can all pledge to do our part to achieve a tobacco-free Sierra Leone," he said.
During the health fair, which was coordinated by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Medical Missionary Association of Sierra Leone, the NGO Forut and medical and pharmacy students, over 150 people were engaged on tobacco use, participated in blood pressure screenings and fitness tests, received medical counselling and referrals, and for those currently using tobacco, got practical advice on cessation.