Ethiopia’s First Survey on Tobacco Use Shows Urgent Need for Government Action to Save Lives

Statement of Bintou Camara, Director of Africa Programs, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 31, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – Ethiopia’s first survey on adult tobacco use shows that millions of Ethiopians are using tobacco or are exposed to secondhand smoke – an alarming trend that requires swift action. According to the survey, 3.2 million Ethiopians currently use tobacco. The new survey demonstrates the need for Ethiopia’s leaders to take strong action to protect the health of their country’s citizens, especially as the world’s tobacco companies are setting their sights on Africa as a growing market for their deadly products.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), released today by 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 shown there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure 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 US $1. By increasing tobacco prices through higher tobacco taxes, Ethiopia can encourage quitting among existing tobacco users and prevent young people and other non-users from ever starting.

While this new information is cause for concern, Ethiopia has taken positive steps to push back against the tobacco industry and implement policies to reduce tobacco use. The 2015 Tobacco Control Directive introduced warning labels on tobacco products, eliminated nearly all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and restricted indoor smoking to designated areas. The government can build on this progress by strengthening warning labels with large, graphic images and requiring all public places to be smoke-free.

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 bans 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.

If current trends persist, 26 percent of the world’s smokers –413 million people –will live in Africa by 2100.

Worldwide, tobacco use will claim one billion lives this century.