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Ethiopias first tobacco survey reveals alarming trend  Bahir Dar bans Khat

Ethiopia’s first tobacco survey reveals alarming trend

Bahir Dar bans Khat

In the wake of international tobacco companies’ vying to gain a foothold in the Ethiopian tobacco market, a new survey released on Wednesday revealed that there are around 3.7 million tobacco users and 2.9 million adult cigarette smokers in the country.

The report, by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), assessing the 2016 tobacco-use trend came a year after Japan Tobacco Group won a bid to acquire a 40 percent equity share in the National Tobacco Enterprise Ethiopia S.C. for a total USD 510 million.

The survey on adult tobacco use also shows that millions of Ethiopians are exposed to secondhand smoke – an alarming trend that requires swift action from the government, according to the survey.

The survey demonstrates the need for Ethiopia’s leaders to take strong action to protect the health of citizens, especially as the world’s tobacco companies are setting their sights on Africa as a potentially lucrative market for peddling their wares.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), conducted in conjunction with the government of Ethiopia, is the country’s first survey of adult tobacco use. The survey also shows that nearly one-third of adult Ethiopians are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Secondhand smoke exposure is especially high at bars and nightclubs (60.4 percent), with significant exposure at restaurants (31.1 percent) and universities (29.4 percent) as well.

Evidence has further shown there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that it causes premature death and serious diseases like lung cancer and heart disease.

The survey also shows that tobacco remains very affordable in Ethiopia with a pack of 20 cigarettes costing less than USD 1.

The survey also recommends that “by increasing tobacco prices through higher taxes, Ethiopia can encourage quitting among existing tobacco users and prevent young people and other non-users from ever starting”.

“While the information is a cause for concern, Ethiopia has taken positive steps to push back against the tobacco industry and implement policies to reduce tobacco use,” Bintou Camara, director of Africa Programs, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement sent to The Reporter.

According to the statement, the 2015 Ethiopian Tobacco Control Directive introduced warning labels on tobacco products, eliminated nearly all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and restricted indoor smoking except at designated sites. The government can build on this progress by strengthening warning labels with large, graphic images and requiring all public places to be smoke-free, it was stated in the statement.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), an international public health treaty, requires parties including Ethiopia to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use. These measures include smoke-free laws, warning labels on tobacco products, increased tobacco taxes and ban on tobacco advertising. The information found in GATS should motivate the government of Ethiopia to redouble its efforts to pass and implement the policies called for in the FCTC, the statement added.

 In other news, the Amhara Regional State on Wednesday banned khat (a stimulant leaf) chewing in public places in the regional seat of Bahr Dar.

The town’s communications bureau announced that the latest “strict” measure is aimed at addressing the growing number of town dwellers addicted to the stimulant leaf. It also said that criminal incidents are rising in the town for which chewing khat is blamed. In addition to the strictures on individuals who habitually chew khat, the administration also banned khat joints where people indulge in the pastime.

The communications office also indicated that enforcement action has commenced as of last week.

Khat is a green shrub that grows at high altitude in eastern and southern Africa as well as on the Arabian Peninsula. The habit of chewing this stimulant leaf is believed to be rapidly increasing worldwide, with upwards of 10 million people consuming it daily.

Similarly, it is widely consumed among the youth in Ethiopia, especially among high-school, college and university students.  Experts warn that khat chewing can have adverse psychiatric, cardiovascular, dental and gastrointestinal effects. Meanwhile, other experts say that the recent sharp increase in khat consumption may not only affect the health of individuals but could also have serious socio-economic consequences.

By Yonas Abiye and Dawit Endeshaw