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The cost of tobacco use on a nation. Embrace next steps

Oh well the hard truth about tobacco use in Samoa is finally out of the bag – it is not only claiming lives but damaging the local economy too.

Last year a Joint Mission – comprising the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat (FCTC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – visited Samoa as part of the FCTC Project to support nations strengthen WHO FCTC implementation in order to achieve the SDGs.

This week they were in town to present their findings and recommendations in a report to the Samoa Government. The team’s report is backed up by data and analysis and is titled “Investment Case for Tobacco Control in Samoa – The case for scaling-up WHO FCTC implementation”.

The report is damning of tobacco use in Samoa and the findings are a first for a Pacific Islands nation. 

“Every year tobacco use kills over 200 Samoans with 56 per cent of these deaths among individuals under the age of 70. More than 20 per cent of lives lost from tobacco use are due to exposure to secondhand smoke,” stated the report.

And what are the cost to Samoa’s fledgling economy? The report added that in 2017 tobacco use cost the Samoan local economy $47 million tala, which is equivalent to 2.3 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

For the first time in Samoa’s history and in the Pacific Islands for that matter, leaders in the government and private sector as well as technocrats and policy makers, have a comprehensive report with detailed analysis that point to a scourge that has now become an impediment to a healthy nation and people.

The partners behind the Joint Mission – WHO FCTC, UNDP and WHO – are hoping the Samoa government can accept the report and implement its recommendations.

WHO FCTC Team Leader (Development Assistance), Andrew Black, said their report provides the government with critical information needed to support public policy decisions.

“We wanted to provide more information to Samoa’s government in order to support policy making for tobacco into the future,” he said.

“It’s also a significant cause of environmental problems and a major barrier of economic development as well, so tobacco is a major barrier to sustainable development.”

Kazuyuki Uji, who is the Policy Specialist (HIV, Health and Inclusive Development) with the UNDP, highlighted the cost of tobacco use in Samoa and its impact on the country’s local economy.

“So this is one of the key findings of the investment case, that tobacco is costing $47 million every year, which is equivalent to 2.3 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2017,” he said.

Having gone through the 46-page report, it appears the Joint Mission team left no stone unturned in their analysis of the tobacco use crisis, following their visit to Samoa last year to make the investment case to the government.

Besides the loss of 200-plus lives annually to tobacco-related illness, we cannot help but notice its impact on the local economy, including the loss of workforce productivity which would be a big concern for the private sector. 

The figures are actually staggering: tobacco use will cost $1.7 million in healthcare expenditure, and $4.5 million in lost productivity capacity (due to premature mortality and disability and workplace smoking breaks).

But thankfully there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a way forward for this nation. The government can reduce the burden from tobacco use over the next 15 years, by acting on the recommendations that the Joint Mission has put forward.

The recommendation is that the Samoa government implements five measures: increase cigarette taxation to reduce tobacco products’ affordability; expand and enforce bans on smoking in public places to protect people; implement plain packaging for tobacco products; promote and strengthen public awareness of tobacco control issues through mass media information campaigns; and expand and enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Other states in the region will now be envious that Samoa is in a position to identify the health risks associated with tobacco use and put its finger on the costs, thanks to the work of the Joint Mission.

And while we give credit to the government for doing the groundwork – in progressing work on tobacco control and having the political will to drive the issue, resulting in Samoa being selected among 15 nations around the world – the real work should start now to arrest a health crisis that is already casting a shadow on the country’s future.

If you have a story to share about the impact of tobacco use on your life or that of your family, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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