Alarm over Cameroon child smokers By YUH TIMCHIA in Yaoundé | Thursday, February 14  2013 at  18:18

Forty-four per cent of pupils in Cameroonian schools have already had their first contact with tobacco. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Forty-four per cent of pupils in Cameroonian schools have already had their first contact with tobacco and the gory statistic could get worse, an anti-tobacco organisation has warned.

The Cameroon Coalition Against Tobacco further states that 15 per cent of the people below the age of 15 were among 17.5 per cent of the country’s smoking population.

The organisation is pushing for anti-tobacco laws to be urgently implemented in the country.

Cameroon became a signatory to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in May 2006.

Parties to the treaty, which obliges signatories to cut back on tobacco consumption and exposure to secondary smoke, adopted the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in November last year.

But experts believe Cameroon had remained a key cigarette-smuggling and contraband hub with tobacco companies using illegal channels to keep the business alive.

The situation was further compounded by counterfeiting which was a serious threat to public health, they say.

The main targets

Flore Ndembiyembe, the president of the Cameroon Coalition Against Tobacco, says the world’s major tobacco producers, driven by strict laws in the West, were shifting the focus of their commercial strategies to developing countries where anti-tobacco regulations were weak or non-existent.

The organisation says out of 6 million tobacco-related deaths globally every year, 80 per cent occurred in the developing world, mainly in Africa where tobacco consumption swelled by 4.3 per cent annually.

Youths who make up the bulk of Cameroon’s over 20 million citizens were the main targets of cigarette producing companies, it claims.

Some 28.8 per cent of Cameroonian men and 8.1 per cent of women smoke, while 37 per cent of the country’s population were exposed to tobacco smoke in public and family circles.

“Only simple, clear rigorous laws, which are possible to respect, will guarantee the public’s power to benefit from pure air without tobacco smoke,” Ndembiyembe says.

In December last year, about 30 parliamentarians assured the Cameroon anti-tobacco lobby that they would convince colleagues to adopt a new anti-tobacco draft law to be tabled before the 180-seat House.

There has been a series of ministerial orders designating non-smoking areas like government buildings and schools, and regulating cigarette advertising, promotion, sale and packaging.

But anti-tobacco campaigners say these measures were not comprehensive and had so far not been effective.