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Blowing smoke in Africa: big tobacco and child smokers

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Weak regulations – and alleged underhand tactics – are helping big tobacco firms increase demand in Africa, especially among the young, writes Ravi Jaipaul for Think Africa Press.

In Mtwapa, Kenya, palm trees shade 14-year-old Destiny and his young friends as they overlook a warm, white beach that backs onto the shimmering Indian Ocean. Clouding the pristine view are puffs of smoke from cigarettes they’ve purchased for a few cents per single stick at the propped-up convenience shack on the corner.

All of us, all of my friends smoke”, says Destiny, inhaling deeply from his cigarette before exhaling the smoke slowly through his nose. “We see [tobacco advertisements] everywhere, and the cigarettes are cheap.”

As the popularity of smoking has slowed in the developed world, it has spread rapidly in developing countries. And as the west has tightened regulations and tried to push big tobacco out of the limelight, cigarette companies have turned their attention to African markets, and young people are taking up the habit.

It is estimated that between 82,000 and 99,000 young people start smoking each day across the world, the vast majority in developing countries. Smokers who start as children are more likely to become lifetime addicts, as the number of cigarettes required to establish a nicotine addiction is lower than in adults. Tobacco dependence is regarded by many as a paediatric disease, but action to combat the spread of smoking addiction has been slow.

The children are the future

There are currently four multinational tobacco companies working towards increasing their African profits and market share. One of them is Philip Morris International, and although John Fielder, the company’s global external communications officer, insists that “Philip Morris International has a very small market share in the region”, this is changing. The company’s brands include L&M and Marlboro, and the multinational opened a factory in Senegal in 2009, employing 230 people.

Meanwhile, tobacco is being marketed aggressively across the continent, helped by the fact that many countries have yet to establish regulations and restrictions on cigarette advertising. Tobacco ads regularly feature scantily-clad girls and film stars, while a recent study found that many basketball courts in Senegalese towns have cigarette brands’ logos painted on the walls. In Guinea, so-called ‘cigarette girls’ are employed to go around nightclubs, corner stores and public places to encourage youths to smoke branded cigarettes with aspirational-sounding names such as Diplomat, High Society, Sportsman and Champion.

Furthermore, across the continent, the possibility of buying single cigarettes or smaller (and therefore cheaper) ‘kiddie packs’ ensures that smoking is affordable to far larger demographic. Single cigarettes are also used by some youths as appetite suppressants, especially in areas where adequate nutrition can be hard to come by. Asked if he and his friends have had their lunch, Destiny looks at his half-lit cigarette and replies, “This is much better, no?

Tobacco companies deny they target young people. “We do not advertise to children anywhere in the world”, says Simon Evans, group press officer at Imperial Tobacco Group plc. “Our products are marketed to adult smokers and in doing so we employ the same responsible standards in Africa as we would in any western market.” But many academics and activists disagree.

They point out that tobacco companies advertise heavily in youth-friendly magazines, movies and social media in developing countries, while recent research found that 68% of six-year-olds in Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia can identify at least one cigarette company logo.

The tobacco industry needs to recruit children to replace the adult smokers killed by its products”, says Anna Gilmore, professor for public health and director of the University of Bath’s Tobacco Control Research Group. “Marketing to children has and will always be central to their business strategy.”

Blowing smoke

In many African countries, there is currently a struggle going on between those advocating greater controls on the one hand, and tobacco firms on the other. Some cigarette companies have been accused of manipulating local governments to delay tobacco legislation, of sponsoring health professionals to act in their favour, and intimidating governments with threats of litigation. For many, these tactics simply highlight the need for greater regulation.

It is because of these marketing ploys of the tobacco companies that tobacco control advocates in Africa are pushing for strong comprehensive tobacco control that will protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco use”, says Enó Isong, associate director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The United Nations has also been trying to intervene to prevent a new generation of young, addicted smokers, and in 2005, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) came into effect.

Enforcing the FCTC has, however, proven difficult. Partly because firms may provide jobs and some economic opportunities, the tobacco industry is able to wield a relatively large amount of power over the governments of poorer countries, making legislating against big tobacco trickier. “The tobacco industry continues to try to interfere in the legislative process, taking advantage of their access to policymakers as well as their purported ‘socially responsible’ activities”, says Isong.

Evans at Imperial Tobacco Group plc however refutes this, claiming, “It is the role of governments to provide the general public with clear and consistent messages about the health risks to smokers that are associated with their smoking. We do not challenge those messages.”

Lighting up the debate

There have been some positive actions being taken to combat the rise of smoking, but regulation remains the exception rather than the rule for now. According to a WHO report, just five African countries have issued smoking bans in public places, nine have banned tobacco advertising and only four meet the WHO’s recommendations for health warnings on cigarette packaging.

Almost all governments on the continent have a way to go, but South Africa arguably provides a promising example to follow. It has established smoke-free public places, large and clear health warnings and health education campaigns. Furthermore, in 1999, South Africa passed the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act which bans the advertising of tobacco products, free distribution of tobacco products and all forms of promotion such as sponsorship − exactly the kinds of measures Isong believes are necessary to control tobacco dependence amongst the youth.

Adopting a total ban on all direct and indirect tobacco products advertising, promotion and sponsorship activities, for example, will prevent messages, cues and other inducements to begin using tobacco, especially among children”, he says. For the moment, however, that hope remains some distance away for most African countries, including Kenya.

Back in Mtwapa, Destiny and his friends have now risen from their concrete blocks overlooking the ocean and are heading back to the shack, finishing the last of their cigarettes. They plunk down some coins, grab a single cigarette from a blue box, put a match to it and turn away to the beach again. “I’ll have probably five or six today − it keeps me cool”, says Destiny.

Ravi Jaipaul is a public health consultant and registered nurse who has focused his career on global health and vulnerable populations. His recently completed masters in public health (LSHTM) has led him to a career in complex humanitarian emergency planning and co-ordination. Follow him on twitter: @ravijaipaul. This article originally appeared on Think Africa Press.

Further reading:

Fighting the long fight against tobacco

Describing tobacco as a ‘defensive stock’ is offensive

Raise tobacco taxes to save 200m lives, scientists say

Council tobacco investments: incongruous and unethical

Tobacco: investing in death

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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