With tobacco sales declining in most of the Western world, cigarette companies are looking to capitalize on growing markets. According to the Los Angeles Times, many have turned to Africa to help them turn a profit, where children are quickly getting hooked on the dangerous practice.

Reporting from South Africa, Robyn Dixon of the L.A. Times writes:

A schoolboy in uniform hurries up, barely glancing at the cookie packets, lollipops and candies, grabs a Dunhill cigarette from a red box, puts a match to it and drops 22 cents on the table before hurrying away.

Moyana is at his stand, just a few yards from the school gates, most days from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Asked why he set up next to the school, he looks awkward. “I just decided this was a good spot,” he says vaguely, basking in the hot spring sun. Every few minutes, a customer tosses some change onto his table, plucks a cigarette, lights it.

Africa is Big Tobacco’s last frontier, and companies are conquering the continent stick by stick. Even a child can afford the cost of a single cigarette, 16 cents for Moyana’s cheapest brand.

As tobacco sales decline in the West due to ardent anti-smoking campaigns and flatten in Asia, cigarette companies are training their eyes on the continent of Africa because of its growing middle class and relaxed regulation on selling single cigarettes, which makes smoking both cheap and accessible.

While few people in Africa currently smoking, a growing segment of African men in several countries are taking up the unhealthy practice. The World Health Organization estimates that somewhere between 20 to 30-percent of African men in several countries smoke, and according to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan, the number of smokers in Africa “will rise from an average 16% to 22% by 2030, a massive increase given U.N. predictions that sub-Saharan Africa’s population will rise by half a billion, to 1.3 billion, by then.”

Adam Belcher, an economist with the American Society, explains the tobacco industry’s newfound interest in the continent:

“Twenty years ago, the industry wasn’t interested in Africa because they were still seeing considerable growth in other markets. As they’ve been pushed out of America, Australia, Europe, they’re moving on to the next lowest-hanging fruit,” Blecher says. “With the resources that they have and the experience they have, they will be successful if nothing’s done.”

Anti-smoking activists in Africa are pushing back against the encroachment of tobacco companies, and many governments have restricted advertisements from cigarette companies. Despite this, tobacco companies are making inroads into many nations, and without intervention, Africa’s next problem could be lung cancer.

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