Africa: Sensitizing Youth On the Increased Risk of Mortality for Covid-19 Due to Smoking
During the Prizing Giving Ceremony of the National Info-Clip Competition held on 03 September 2020 at the R. Gandhi Science Centre, Bell Village, young people from different regions of the country were sensitized on the increased risk of mortality for COVID-19 due to smoking. Hon. Mr Stephan Toussaint, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Recreation, Dr Laurent Musango, WHO Representative in Mauritius, Honorary President of VISA, Mrs Veronique Leclezio and Mr Deowan Mohee, President of VISA as well as high officials of the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Recreation attended the event.
The National Info-Clip Competition, launched in June 2020 in the context of the World No-Tobacco Day, aimed at encouraging young people to come up with preventive strategies to reduce the use of tobacco and nicotine among youth.
Hon Mr S. Toussaint, during his address, expressed his appreciation to WHO for the support provided during the COVID-19 outbreak. He highlighted the need to stay alert even if in the country there is no locally transmitted cases. "COVID-19 is present around the world", said the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Recreation. He added, "smoking affects your lungs and causes respiratory diseases". The Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Recreation emphasized, "smokers have high risks of complications due to COVID-19". He encouraged young people to practice sports and benefit from the sports and recreational programmes offered by his ministry.
Honorary President, Mrs Veronique Leclezio in her speech, made an appeal to young people "not to start something that you cannot stop". The latter stressed the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry in manipulating its products "to take the smokers' money and kill them"
Dr Laurent Musango, WHO Representative in Mauritius, during his address, highlighted "the US$ 8 billion investment by the tobacco industry each year in marketing lethal products to kill more than 8 million people globally every year". "Tobacco kills half its users and more than 7 million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke", said Dr Musango.
The Prize Giving Ceremony was an opportunity to raise awareness on smoking as one of the high risks for developing NCDs and NCDs are increasing the Case Fatality Ratio, that is the risk of mortality for COVID-19. Dr Musango pointed out, "in Mauritius, 9 out of the 10 deaths were associated to NCDs co-morbidities". He added "it is better not to start smoking as there is no safe tobacco, no safe level of exposure and all forms of tobacco use are harmful and kills". He explained how the tobacco industry uses strong marketing strategies to come up with new and innovative tobacco products such as "light, low tar, flavoured, smokeless, chewing tobacco, among others, to make people believe that these are less harmful"
"Tobacco use is increasing among 13-15-year-old in the African region and unfortunately, the number of girls and women smokers is increasing as well", emphasized Dr Musango. The latter enumerated the concrete actions and measures taken by the country since it ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004, to stem the tide of tobacco related diseases.
Mauritius is serving as best practices in the implementation of the pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages and it is one of the rare countries where smoking cessation services are available free of charge to smokers who want to quit smoking. The tobacco legislation in Mauritius protects people from tobacco smoke in public places as well as ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Mauritius accession to the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in 2018 also shows its strong commitment in fighting illicit trade.
"More needs to be done to further raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use and in strengthening enforcement to stop the sale of single sticks and the sale of tobacco products to minors", said Dr Musango. He advocated for speed up actions as some of the tobacco control measures have been in the pipeline for too long, such as the implementation of the new pictorial health warnings on cigarette packages as required by WHO FCTC, the promulgation of the new set of tobacco regulations to address emerging tobacco control issues and the implementation of plain packaging.
Dr L. Musango congratulated the participants of the National Info Clip competition which was opened to two categories of young people aged between 14 and 22 years and 23 to 35 years. "You are all winners", said Dr Musango to the 46 participants. "some of the info clips will be used to sensitize young people in the country on the dangers of tobacco and to encourage those who currently smoke to quit".
During the Prize Giving Ceremony, Dr L. Musango, on behalf of Dr Tedros, the Director General of WHO, handed over the "Certificate of Appreciation" and a medal to Mr Deowan Mohee, Director of VISA, in recognition of outstanding contribution in tobacco control. Mr Mohee was among the six awardees in the African region for the World No-Tobacco Day this year for his active role in tobacco control.