Experts fear Africa "pandemic" from rise in smoking

Tue Nov 10, 2009 7:03pm EST
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Africa faces a surge in cancer deaths unless action is taken in the next decade to stem rising smoking levels in a continent where anti-tobacco laws remain rare, U.S. scientists said Wednesday.

More than half the continent will double its tobacco use within 12 years if current trends continue, the American Cancer Society (ACS) said in a report which found that 90 percent of people living there have no protection from secondhand smoke.

Some African countries have introduced smoking bans but most have not and smoke-free public areas are few.

"For the first time in history, we have the tools in hand to prevent a pandemic," Otis W. Brawley, the ACS's chief medical officer, said in a statement with the report, which was presented at a cancer conference in Tanzania.

"Smoke-free public places are one example of a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented now to protect health."

Many developed countries have tightened laws in recent years to make smoking unacceptable or illegal in public places like bars, restaurants, offices and on public transport -- as a way to protect non-smokers and to discourage the habit.

Secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer in adults and lung problems such as pneumonia in young children.

Over the past four decades, smoking rates have fallen in rich countries like the United States, Britain and Japan but have been rising in much of the developing world.   Continued...