Africa is poised to become the “future epicenter of the tobacco epidemic,” according to a new analysis from the American Cancer Society. It warns that the number of adults in Africa who smoke could increase to 572 million by 2100, from 77 million today, unless leaders take steps to curb current trends.

“The cost of having to intervene in the future rather than preventing it now will be massive,” says Evan Blecher, Ph.D., one the report’s authors and an economist with the International Tobacco Control Research program at the American Cancer Society.

The report highlights several reasons for the increase in smoking rates:

  • In Africa, 9% of boys and 3% of girls smoke -- both rates are high compared with other developing regions.
  • Africa is set for massive population growth. The region now accounts for 12% of the global population -- this will climb to 30% by 2100. The study concludes that because of this, Africa will have the second-highest number of smokers of any region by 2060.
  • African nations experienced strong economic growth in the 2000s, which means more people have more money to spend on tobacco.

Still, the authors say, most African countries remain in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic, with tobacco use relatively low compared with the rest of the world. Thus, there is time to put prevention strategies into place that could have a significant impact. In fact, the researchers estimate that if African countries put appropriate policy interventions in place, the region could avoid 139 million premature deaths by 2100.

“Failure to prevent the tobacco epidemic in Africa will create a big drain on future health systems in an already constrained environment,” Blecher asserts.

Tobacco use is known to cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other serious health problems. Thus, Blecher says, if the smoking rate continues to climb, dealing with such tobacco-related illnesses would divert global resources away from other serious health priorities.

Read the full report here.


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