The exposure of non-smokers to toxic tobacco smoke creates a public health emergency that has placed the country on the top spot with the highest number of tobacco users in the region. The Anti-Tobacco Network (ATN) calls upon the leadership of the country to acknowledge the crisis and show a much stronger political will to tackle the epidemic and reverse the tide by deploying appropriate public policy interventions and allocating adequate resources. The network congratulates the Government of Botswana, and Dikoloti for the recent launch and virtual release of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey Country Report on December 17, 2020. The report reveals a frightening prevalence of tobacco use among adults aged 15 years and older in Botswana, making Batswana the highest tobacco users compared to any country in the region that has carried out this survey. Some of the shocking findings of the study are that about one out of five adults (240,000 adults) aged 15 years or older in Botswana are tobacco users and that, about four out of five adults who smoked cigarettes bought them as a single cigarette. Another serious concern from this study is that nearly 2 out of 3 adults in Botswana are exposed to tobacco smoke in bars and night clubs. These findings provide the facts and evidence for immediate public policy attention as they amplify ATN Botswana’s previous calls for the government to urgently adopt a law that will reduce access to deadly tobacco products as well as making them less affordable. The high exposure to second-hand smoke in places of work, homes and entertainment places provides compelling evidence that supports ATN’s previous calls for the government to adopt a law that completely bans smoking in public places to protect the public and employees of these facilities from harmful tobacco smoke.
Clearly, the rate of smoking is accelerating due to the current state of affairs where tobacco products are sold by street vendors near schools and in homes as revealed in the 2019 ATN situation analysis report. Immediate action is needed to stem the tide and save current and future generations death, chronic disease and poverty. The current Control of Smoking Act (section 4) allows the creation of smoking areas in places such as restaurants, bars and casinos, thus opening a loophole that leads to the violation of workers right to safe work as well as a violation of the rights of non-smoking clients who sit nearly. ATN maintains that no one deserves to die from involuntary toxic tobacco smoke. We applaud the Ministry of Health and Wellness for emphasising the need to act on the findings of the report to protect public health and to ensure the report does not gather dust in the shelves of policymakers and stakeholders. I pledge ATN Botswana’s readiness to work with the ministry and other stakeholders to disseminate the results of this survey and put the data into action. We noted in the minister’s address that the results of the survey have been used to inform the provisions of the proposed tobacco control Bill. This is a commendable undertaking and we believe the upcoming law will have stronger provisions that completely ban smoking in public places, ban the sale of single cigarettes, which make tobacco products affordable, promote large health warnings to educate the public of the dangers of the habit and ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship among others. ATN stays ready and committed to working with the government in the implementation of tobacco control in Botswana.
Professor Bontle Mbongwe is Executive Director of Anti-Tobacco Network (Botswana)