By John R. Seffrin, PhD Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society
I’m gathered this week in Cape Town, South Africa, with more than 220 leaders in the global cancer fight. We’re talking a lot this week about what we can do to help move the cancer agenda forward. We’re talking about how we can intervene, based on proven practices. And we’re talking about how we can help make cancer a worldwide priority, before the disease needlessly kills more people around the globe.
But perhaps what’s most interesting about this important annual meeting is not what we’re discussing, but where we’re discussing it. This is the first-ever World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Africa, a continent that is poised to become the “future epicenter of the tobacco epidemic,” according to a new American Cancer Society report released last week. This unique publication for the first time combines African smoking rates, cigarette consumption, population projections, and economic forecasts into one report.
Based on this new analysis, we know the number of Africans who smoke could increase to a staggering 572 million by 2100, from 77 million today, unless we act now. Interestingly, this tobacco pandemic threatens an Africa that today has lower tobacco use rates than any other region in the world. But we’ve already seen tobacco consumption rise aggressively in Africa in the past two decades, as economies are growing rapidly, populations are increasing, and people are living longer.
Yet the great thing is, this is a problem we know how to stop. Tobacco use remains the most preventable cause of death worldwide, and we have the knowledge and know-how to significantly curb this problem in Africa and to save millions of lives, with tailored prevention and intervention policies.
We can help solve this problem before it spirals out of control, saving lives not just from cancer but from all chronic diseases. Tobacco use is the only risk factor common to all four of the main types of chronic disease, causing 1 in 6 deaths from noncommunicable disease.
I’m glad we’re meeting in Africa this week. Because we have time here to prevent so much needless suffering and death and we have growing momentum among key government and health care leaders. Africa is still in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic. If we can make tobacco control and the fight against chronic diseases a priority in Africa, we will see a very different continent in another 100 years than if we do not. With the right steps taken, the region could avoid 139 million premature deaths by 2100.
As world cancer leaders gather in Africa this week, I hope leaders across the region and around the world are paying attention. Because we have time. We know what to do. And together we can prevent needless suffering and save so many lives.