May 31 is the World No Tobacco Day. It was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987 to raise awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate policies to reduce its consumption.
Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths worldwide, resulting in a significant health burden. Recognising its grave consequences, the WHO has been at the forefront of promoting a tobacco-free world.
But the powerful tobacco industry enjoys heavy global influence. ‘Big Tobacco’ employs aggressive marketing tactics, lobbying efforts and sponsorship strategies to maintain and expand its customer base.
Reducing this influence for widespread awareness and implementation of tobacco control measures calls for a long-term commitment, collaboration and concerted efforts from governments, civil society, public health bodies and individuals.
Secondly, tobacco consumption is rooted in many cultures and societies. A 2014 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) report shows 15.1 per cent of Kenyan adults smoke. The prevalence was higher among males (23.4 per cent) than females (7.2 per cent).
Addressing the social acceptance of smoking and changing cultural norms around tobacco use can be a complex and slow process. Overcoming cultural acceptance requires a multi-faceted approach, such as education, awareness campaigns and targeted interventions to shift societal norms and perceptions.
Thirdly, the industry continually evolves, introducing new products and adopting innovative marketing strategies. The emergence of e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and flavoured tobacco products has created additional challenges.
These products, often marketed as “safer” alternatives, appeal to young people and can re-normalise tobacco use.
Overcoming these challenges demands a comprehensive multifaceted approach. A tobacco-free world will boost public health by reducing diseases.
Mr Mwangi is a freelance journalist and a communication specialist. [email protected].