By: Dr. Muhammed Lamin Touray
Tobacco use remains a pervasive and alarming public health concern worldwide, and The Gambia is no exception to this global challenge. Despite efforts to curb tobacco consumption and its associated health risks, the prevalence of tobacco use in The Gambia poses significant threats to the well-being of its population. This article aims to shed light on the current state of tobacco use in The Gambia, exploring its prevalence, health implications, and the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address this major health risk factor.
Prevalence of Tobacco Use in The Gambia:
Tobacco use has become ingrained in the cultural fabric of many societies, and The Gambia is not immune to its influence. The prevalence of tobacco use in The Gambia is a cause for concern, with both smoking and smokeless tobacco consumption contributing to the overall burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). According to the 2017 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of tobacco users in The Gambia has been on the rise, particularly among the youth.
Health Implications of Tobacco Use:
The health risks associated with tobacco use are well-documented and wide-ranging. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disorders, and various forms of cancer. In The Gambia, the impact of tobacco use on the health sector is palpable, with an increasing number of individuals suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
Moreover, the use of smokeless tobacco (Tabaa), a common practice in certain communities, also presents unique health challenges. Smokeless tobacco products are linked to oral and esophageal cancers, gum diseases, and other oral health issues. The dual burden of both smoking and smokeless tobacco use further compounds the public health challenges faced by The Gambia.
Beyond its direct impact on health, tobacco use in The Gambia has far-reaching socioeconomic consequences. The cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses places a considerable burden on the already strained healthcare system. Moreover, the loss of productivity due to illness and premature mortality affects families, communities, and the national economy.
Initiatives and Challenges:
While The Gambia has taken commendable steps to address tobacco use, including ratifying the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), challenges persist. Enforcement of existing tobacco control policies, public awareness, and accessibility to cessation services are areas that require targeted interventions.
Public Awareness and Education:
A crucial aspect of addressing tobacco use involves raising public awareness about its health risks. Comprehensive public education campaigns, tailored to diverse communities and demographics, can play a pivotal role in changing social norms around tobacco consumption. These campaigns should highlight the health risks, economic implications, and the benefits of cessation.
Stricter Tobacco Control Policies:
To effectively combat the tobacco epidemic, The Gambia needs to strengthen its tobacco control policies. This includes stricter regulations on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, as well as the implementation of smoke-free public spaces. Additionally, increasing taxes on tobacco products can serve as a deterrent and a source of revenue for tobacco control programs.
Accessible Cessation Services:
Supporting individuals in their efforts to quit tobacco is essential. The Gambia should invest in accessible and affordable cessation services, including counseling and pharmacotherapy. Community-based programs and partnerships with healthcare providers can ensure that cessation support reaches those who need it most.
Engaging Youth and Community Leaders:
Given the youth’s susceptibility to tobacco initiation, engaging with schools and youth organizations is crucial. Empowering youth to become advocates for tobacco control can create a ripple effect within communities. Similarly, involving community leaders and influencers can help shift social norms and discourage tobacco use.
Tobacco use in The Gambia presents a multifaceted challenge that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts. Addressing this major health risk factor requires a comprehensive approach, including stringent policies, public awareness campaigns, accessible cessation services, and collaboration across sectors. The Gambia has the opportunity to create a healthier future by tackling tobacco use head-on, protecting its citizens from the devastating health and socioeconomic consequences associated with this global epidemic.