MAURITIUS— The World Health Organisation (WHO), has recognized Mauritius and the Netherlands, for completing the implementation of its package on tobacco control measures, dubbed the “MPOWER Package”.

Mauritius becomes the first African country to fully implement the entire WHO package of tobacco control measures aimed at reducing tobacco use and reducing related deaths.

Mauritius and the Netherlands join Brazil and Türkiye to be four out of WHO’S 194 member countries that have adopted all the anti-tobacco measures recommended in the fight against smoking.

The WHO tobacco control package, called MPOWER Package, is a set of six measures to help countries monitor tobacco use and the effectiveness of preventive measures.

Moreover, MPOWER establishes measures to protect people from tobacco smoke and help them quit.

Subsequently, by implementing such measures as ensuring warning about the dangers of tobacco, the enforcement of bans on tobacco advertising, promotion & sponsorship, and raising taxes on tobacco.

Mauritius is leading the way to becoming smoke-free

Mauritius’ achievement was recognized at an event where the Ninth WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic was launched.

The island nation recorded a 25 percent decline in the prevalence of smoking among adults between 1992 and 2021, according to a national survey.

Hon. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister, Republic of Mauritius said, “With a strong political commitment, we have made great progress in tobacco control policies in Mauritius. Our country has adopted the MPOWER strategy and is moving resolutely towards a smoke-free country.”

The island nation has been recognized also a pioneer in tobacco control legislation being among the first countries globally to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004.

It was also the first country to impose pictorial and text warnings on tobacco packaging in 2008.

Additionally, in May 2023, Mauritius became the first African country to introduce plain tobacco packaging.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa applauded the remarkable progress by Mauritius in protecting lives from the dangerous effects of tobacco.

Dr. Moeti added, “The tobacco epidemic is a significant contributor to the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases in Africa and I urge other countries in the region to fully implement the WHO MPOWER measures to curb the health impacts of tobacco.”

In fully implementing the MPOWER package, Mauritius has passed key legislation.

Among them is the Public Health (Restrictions on Tobacco Products) Regulations 2022, which cracks down on the tobacco industry’s interference as well as on emerging tobacco and other nicotine products.

The law also bans the manufacture, importation, distribution, and sale of electronic cigarettes.

Is Africa and the world, in general, doing enough to fight tobacco use?

WHO global report on trends in the prevalence of tobacco use 2000–2025 notes that the African region is expected to be home to more than 50 million smokers by 2025 unless more is done urgently to halt the tobacco epidemic.

Additionally, 12 million others are estimated to be using smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or snuff.

According to UN health agency data, at least 151 countries are now covered by at least one of the WHO’s MPOWER measures, but 44 countries have no coverage at all.

Nevertheless, WHO said the global rate of the prevalence of smoking had dropped from 22.8 percent in 2007 to 17.0 percent in 2021 and without this decline, there would have been 300 million additional smokers now.

However, WHO noted that smoking remained the leading cause of preventable death, killing 8.7 million people each year, including 1.3 million who die from inhaling second-hand smoke.

According to the organization, eight countries are one policy step away from joining the leaders in tobacco control: Ethiopia, Iran, Ireland, Jordan, Madagascar, Mexico, New Zealand, and Spain.

WHO reiterated effective tobacco control recommendations include promoting smoke-free public spaces so that people can breathe clean air and avoid deadly second-hand smoke.

The measure can also motivate people to quit, the UN agency said, while also helping to denormalize smoking and preventing young people from picking up the habit. 

Taking the fight against e-cigarettes products

The WHO report decried far too little regulation of e-cigarettes noting that globally, 121 countries had adopted some measures addressing e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, 74 countries had no regulations in place addressing such products, meaning no bans on use in public places, no labeling requirements, and no bans on advertising.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that progress was being undermined by the aggressive promotion of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to cigarettes. 

“Young people, including those who never previously smoked, are a particular target. In fact, e-cigarettes are harmful to both the people using them and those around them, especially when used indoors,” Dr. Tedros noted with concern.  

Although new WHO data indicates that the percentage of people who smoke has declined, challenges remain in regulating e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco items, the UN agency said. 

“Some products are modifiable by the user so that nicotine concentration and risk levels are difficult to regulate,” said Dr Rüdiger Krech, WHO Director, Department of Health Promotion.  

Dr. Krech noted that others were marketed as ‘nicotine-free’ but, when tested, were often found to contain the addictive ingredient.

Moreover, distinguishing nicotine-containing products from non-nicotine, or even from some tobacco-containing products, can be almost impossible.

WHO finally warned that children who use e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are up to three times more likely to use tobacco products in the future.   

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