Renowned public health activist, Dr. Kgosi Letlape, has warned that developing countries, particularly those in Africa, could soon be a dumping ground for combustible cigarettes if authorities do not put in place regulations that restrict importation and consumption of the cigarettes.
Letlape sounded the warning during his keynote presentation at the opening of the Third Edition of Harm Reduction Exchange Conference underway at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.
The South African ophthalmologist and healthcare expert was presenting on the benefits of adopting harm reduction strategies and impediments to broad adoption of the strategies in public health.
Letlape is the past president of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), founded the Africa Medical Association (AMA) in 2006, and is former chairman of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), past president of the World Medical Association (WMA) and former Executive Director of the Tshepang Trust. He also serves as a member of The Global Hygiene Council.
Over the recent past, he has been advocating for alternatives to combustible cigarettes, stressing that they are less harmful and could prevent early deaths among the smokers around the world.
But Letlape expressed disappointment that disinformation and misinformation continues to thrive around smoking, with the World Health Organization (WHO) taking the lead in spreading lies about combustible cigarettes.
He also accused WHO of frustrating efforts to promote harm reduction interventions in developing countries.
He said there is a high likelihood that developing countries could become a dumping ground for combustible cigarettes if governments do not put in place regulations to restrict consumption of the cigarettes.
“When it is speaking to developing countries, it is ‘Thou shall….’, but when it is talking to rich countries, it is ‘Here is the information. You can use it,’” lamented Letlape.
He said people who smoke are not safe, adding that combustible cigarette smoking claims eight million deaths per annum.
“As a doctor, one thing I can advise you about smoking, is to quit. But if you can’t quit, you have to reduce to improve your health,” he advised, further calling upon societies not to discriminate against smokers.
Letlape emphasized that smokers need love and care while efforts are being made to help them quit or find alternatives to smoking.
“Smokers are people. If they can’t quit, they cannot be abandoned. I am not a supporter of combustible cigarettes because the problem with cigarettes is combustion. I advocate for e-cigarettes because they are 98 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes. So, we need regulation. We need to advocate for an environment where truth can prevail,” he said.