Mauritius: In the context of the World No Tobacco Day 2023, observed annually on 31 May, a series of activities were launched today, in the presence of the Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun and the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal, at the Shrimati Indira Gandhi State Secondary School in Quartier Millionaire.
The World Health Organization (WHO) representative, Dr Anne Marie Ancia, and other eminent personalities were also present.
The winners of the ‘Fresque Murale’ intercollege competition, organised by the Ministry of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, were also rewarded.
The theme retained for this year is “We need food, not tobacco”. Addressing the students, Vice-Prime Minister Dookun-Luchoomun underlined that education plays a pivotal role in sensitising the youth to the devastating effects of tobacco use on the health of the communities.
The theme, she said, is most appropriate as it is a powerful reminder to say no to tobacco use, and it also awakens in the youth the resilience and capacity to not give in to peer pressure.
She remarked that tobacco is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and contributes to the rise of health complications. Around 1.2 million persons die every year out of passive smoking, she observed, adding that it is time to reflect on the serious consequences of cigarettes on the health and welfare of the population.
Government, she emphasised, places the health and wellness of the population as one of its topmost priorities and is working relentlessly on sensitisation campaigns on tobacco use, alcohol intake and drugs. “As a society, we have to advocate for stronger legislation and policies so as to curb the accessibility of tobacco to the youth and protect them from falling into the cycles of addiction,” she stated.
The Day, said Dookun-Luchoomun, is an opportunity to come together and raise awareness on the dangers of tobacco consumption as well as to reiterate the need for concerted efforts to combat the scourge of smoking. It is a call for action for the youth to join forces and work together to sensitise people around them and become a champion in the fight against tobacco consumption.
For his part, Minister Jagutpal stated that according to the National, Non-Communicable Diseases Survey carried out in 2021, around 18% of the Mauritian population are consuming tobacco.
It is estimated that 1,000 deaths occur annually in Mauritius due to tobacco use, he informed, adding that smoking is highest in the younger age groups. As per the Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2016, he indicated 19 % of the school population aged between 13 to 15 years consumed tobacco.
He stressed that tobacco contains around 4,000 chemical substances, out of which 300 are toxic and cause a wide range of diseases such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, and chronic pulmonary diseases like bronchitis. It also affects the sexual reproductive health of both male and female smokers, indicated the Minister.
Regarding tobacco control policies, he highlighted that Mauritius was among the first African countries to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2014.
In line with the strong commitment of the Government to reduce the smoking habits of the population, he recalled that his Ministry came forward with the National Action Plan for Tobacco Control 2022-2026 to achieve the UN Declaration target, which is a 30 % relative reduction in the prevalence of current tobacco use in persons aged 15 and older by 2030.
Several other initiatives are being taken, such as anti-tobacco lobbying comprising pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, bans on advertisement, sponsorship and promotion of tobacco products and introduction of cost-free tobacco cessation clinics.
Minister Jagutpal emphasised that the government is taking bold measures to curb smoking in the country. As from today, he informed that no new tobacco-vending licenses will be issued to retailers located within a perimeter of 200 metres of educational institutions, sports and leisure facilities, as per international standards.
In addition, plain cigarette packaging is being introduced as of today, in line with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The import of e-cigarettes into the country is also being banned, he added.
As for Dr Anne Marie Ancia, she underlined that the Day is an occasion to reflect on the need for important and responsible decision making as regards tobacco consumption. She said it is an attempt to contribute to eliminating and reducing tobacco consumption through awareness and sensitisation campaigns.
She also spoke of the consequences of passive smoking on the people around a smoker, adding that the number of death caused by passive smoking has considerably increased.
Therefore, It is an important choice that the youth has to make regarding tobacco consumption, which can have serious implications on their health and that of their family and surroundings, stated Dr Ancia.