Sierra Leone is now the newest of 38 countries in the WHO African region to have enacted a bill into law to protect its population against the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine products. The Tobacco and Nicotine Control Act of 2022 was unanimously passed into law on 3 August 2022 by the country’s law makers. The new law seeks to control and regulates the production, manufacturing, importation, packaging and labeling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship, sale and use of tobacco, tobacco products and other nicotine products in Sierra Leone.
Once assented to by the President, the country will go into full implementation of the provisions of this public health instrument to protect people from the health, social and economic burdens associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco products.
This law takes cognizance of all forms of tobacco and nicotine products including the emerging forms of tobacco such as e-cigarettes. The Act bans all manner of smoking in public places and all forms of advertisement of tobacco and nicotine products.
“This is a remarkable success for public health in Sierra Leone and WHO is proud to have worked very closely with the government, the civil society and the different partners that have supported the process over the years for the development of such comprehensive tobacco control regulation”, says Dr Steven Velabo Shongwe, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone. “WHO will continue to support the next steps to develop the implementation strategies and guidelines, public education for increased awareness of the law to ensure compliance. We will provide strategic technical assistance to build required capacities of the essential institutions and help mobilize resources for effective implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the law”.
Enactment of the bill brings into force the full domestication of the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a treaty that was adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2003. Sierra Leone ratified the widely embraced global treaty in 2009, among other countries in Africa to foster the protection and promotion of public health against the global tobacco epidemic
Tobacco is the leading cause of premature deaths and preventable disease burden in the world. According to WHO, tobacco kills half of all long-term smokers from many different nontransmissible or noncommunicable diseases including cancer, diabetes, lung and heart diseases.
The tobacco epidemic is on the increase in Sierra Leone. The Demographic Health Survey (DHS2019) estimated that about 18% of men and 3% of women between 15-49 years in Sierra Leone are tobacco users and the prevalence of smoking is on the increase mainly among young people, despite its well-known harmful effects on health.
In March 2017, the WHO FCTC 2030 Project supported Sierra Leone among 15 other low and middle-income countries to develop and implement effective, evidence-based tobacco control measures with funding from the UK and Australian governments, later joined by Norway. The Project contributed significantly in the development and finalization of the Tobacco and Nicotine Control Act 2022. The Project also facilitated an investment case which among other things showed that tobacco use killed an estimated 3,300 people in 2017, and the total loss of 404 billion Leones from tobacco use, 73% of which were from economic productivity loss. Catastrophic out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures were also associated with tobacco-related disease burden in Sierra Leone contributing to increased poverty among families and communities, hence undermining efforts towards universal health coverage, as well as in reaching the country’s Sustainable Development Goals targets.
Effective implementation of the provisions of this Act will promote public health, enhance human capital development by preventing young people from initiating tobacco use, help current tobacco users to quit and protect non-smokers from the risks and disease burden associated with exposure to tobacco products in Sierra Leone.