Statistics by the by the American Cancer Society suggest that tobacco consumption in Africa, excluding South Africa, increased by almost 70% between 1990 and 2010. The researchers also predict that the number of African smokers could grow by 40% by 2030. Several African countries have a complete ban on smoking in public. But, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that such laws are rarely implemented. However, the bars and cafes in the northern Ethiopian town of Mekelle are full and lively, but they are no longer smoke-filled, with the strict implementation of a smoking ban in public places.
The WHO said, "Nearly 80% of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. Approximately 600,000 people die worldwide each year from the effects of second-hand smoke. Ethiopia is not the first country to impose a ban on smoking, but is one of the few to act on the law. Kenya's capital Nairobi has designated smoking cabins, with smoking on the street illegal, although this rule is widely flouted."
In Ethiopia, the parliament passed a law banning smoking in public places in 2014 and Mekelle is the first city to implement the law. Since January, 2015, smoking has been banned in cafes, restaurants, schools and hospitals, as well as cultural, sports and religious centers. People who break the ban face a fine of 1,000 Ethiopian birr ($50), a small fortune in Ethiopia where salaries rarely exceed $100 a month.
Teklay Weldemariam, the head of the city's health department and one of the architects of this law, said, "We hardly see more smokers. People really stopped. The speed of non-communicable diseases is increasing. Cancer is one of them. So it is high time to ban cigarettes in public areas. I know other Ethiopian towns are interested in the experience of Mekelle. This can also inspire other East African cities."
After targeting tobacco, the health authorities are also aiming to stamp out khat, a leafy green herb that is mildly narcotic when chewed. Teklay said, "Consumption is rising and the government wants to do something. But, the subject is sensitive as chewing khat plays a role in some customs and traditions in parts of Ethiopia."