Smoking out statistics
As propagating health messages to many African citizens—and health care workers—about tobacco's hazards has proved difficult, so has gathering data about its use. Even figures about tobacco consumption used in the ACS's report are far from definitive. "They're educated estimates," Glynn says. Knowing the data about who smokes—and why—would help health officials better spread awareness.
Better numbers require better surveillance and more cancer registries. Funding data-gathering work, however, can present a challenge when many advocates point to cancer patients who need immediate treatment.
Nicotine-related diseases are only some of the noncommunicable sicknesses killing people in Africa, but Glynn proposes that with the spread of the vaccine for cervical cancer and improved breast and prostate cancer screening, those forms of malignancy will decrease, whereas tobacco-related lung cancer will rise.
"It's very sad in that this is very predictable," Glynn says about "the march of the Western lifestyle" that brings along with it tobacco use, unhealthy diets, less physical activity—and more preventable diseases. But he does not believe extinguishing these threats are insurmountable challenges, agreeing with other experts that it will take a combination of education, political will, grassroots efforts and global awareness.
"Infectious diseases have been at the top of the world health care agenda," Glynn says, but for the first time, noncommunicable afflictions are killing more people worldwide than infectious ones. And if more people in Africa continue to pick up the habit, ACS's Blecher says, "it will not be long until tobacco is up there with HIV/AIDS and malaria."