Tobacco: the only product that kills up to half of its users (By Abdirahman Ahmed Sulleiman)

Mr. Ali is 40 years old. He lives with his wife and their 7 children in a Somali house – Aqal soomaali – locating in the eastern corridor of Borama town. A couple of years ago, Mr. Ali opened a small shop, selling cigarettes – it was his family’s main source of income. Despite selling cigarettes, he himself is a heavy smoker.   “xabad sigaara markaan qac ka siiyo ayaan wax qaban karaa” he told me as we met, un-intentionally, in a bajaaj.

Tobacco epidemic is one the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It has been estimated that currently there are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, and 80% of these smokers are from low and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.

Moreover, tobacco kills 7 million people each year. These deaths are from a direct use of tobacco or from exposing to second hand-smoke.

Just imagine, a brand new industry was launched today, and by the end of next October, 2019, that industry’s product had killed seven million people. Would any of us invest in that new, deadly industry? Tobacco is one of the most pressing global issues of our time, and most of us don’t care about it.

Tobacco has many forms of consumption. Smoking cigarette – a product consumed through inhalation of smoke – is the most common form of consumption in Somali countries. Although there are other forms of consumption but it’s very rare.

In fact, there is no reliable data on the prevalence of smokers and the economic cost of smoking in Somalia. But the total economic cost of smoking globally amounts to more than one trillion US dollars, when adjusted for 2016 purchasing power parity (PPP). This includes direct costs related to healthcare expenditures and indirect costs related to lost productivity due to early mortality and morbidity.

Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable diseases – such as heart diseases and cancers – and deaths in many countries. As many studies have shown even smoking just one or two cigarettes a day increases the risk of lung diseases.

Tobacco is subject to UN treaty or convention that has been ratified by 180 countries. The treaty was created because of the catastrophic global impact of tobacco. The current forecast is that the world is on track for one billion tobacco-related deaths this century. And there are only seven billion of us.

Besides to the UN tobacco treaty, there is, in fact, another global treaty that demands that we act on tobacco. In 2015, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Now we are talking about tobacco, and I know that you’re going to jump straight to goal number three which is: good health and well-being. But if you look a bit more deeply, you will find that 13 of the 17 goals cannot be achieved unless there is a major shake-up of the tobacco industries.

Lastly, tobacco is a major cause of health and development problem. And if we are going to disrupt what doctors called “tobacco epidemic”, we need every sector of society to stand side by side and be part of the solution.



Abdirahman Ahmed Sulleiman.