Ethiopia’s first tobacco survey reveals alarming trend

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.

Creative Commons Ethiopian flag image by J Iglar