Vital Strategies President Jose Luis Castro with Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi

In addition, there has been a 52 percent surge in cigarette consumption in sub-Saharan Africa between 1980 and 2016, with 250-billion cigarettes now being smoked.

These are some of the findings of the 6th Tobacco Atlas released yesterday at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health.

“In Lesotho, there is a lack of government policy on tobacco control, unlike South Africa, and a very strong industry presence, particularly targeting young people,” said Atlas co-author Dr Jeffrey Drope from the American Cancer Society which produced the report with Vital Strategies.

Cost of smoking

One in eight deaths globally are tobacco-related, and 7.1 million people died in 2016 from smoking or passive cigarettes. The cost of treating tobacco amounts to $2-trillion – two percent of the economic activity in the world, according to Jose Luis Castro, president of Vital Strategies.

“For every person who dies, the tobacco industry makes a $10,000 profit,” said Castro. “Political will is key to stop these merchants of death.”

Emma Wanyonyi, chief executive of the International Institute of Legislative Affairs in Kenya, said it had taken 10 years for tobacco control laws to be passed in her country because of industry interference.

“Every time the time came for Parliament to vote, there was a holiday,” said Wanyonyi. “More recently, government officials were approached and offers bribes to take actions that support the industry, not only in Kenya but in Burundi and Uganda. We need to think of ways to address this.”

Meanwhile, Dr Neil Schluger from Vital Strategies said that tobacco farming was extracting a toll on the environment.

“The impact on the environment is substantial. There is land clearing and de-forestation, and a lot of chemicals are put in the soil and tobacco has a high water requirement,” said Schluger. “The benefits for the tobacco farmers are miniscule and many are in debt.”

However, Schluger said that the overall percentage of people smoking had dropped in the world other than in the eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

“This is due to strong and good policies, including excise taxes and laws about smoking in public places,” said Schluger.

Over the past 15 years, Turkey has managed to reduce its smoking rate from almost 40 percent to 26 percent thanks to the implementation of a comprehensive tobacco control policy. – Health-e.