Opinion Piece: My Role As A Pharmacist In Tobacco Control
World No Tobacco Day 2022
The role of the pharmacist in tobacco control is vast and cuts across multiple dimensions. Whereas most pharmacists have focused on tobacco cessation at the community level others have approached it from the angles of policy and research.
My role as a pharmacist in tobacco control is one such example which addresses not only policy and research but the provision of tobacco-related education as a tool for prevention and cessation.
In Ghana, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) is the state institution mandated by law to enforce both the international and national tobacco control regulations.
In this regard, I have been instrumental in the many tobacco control successes chalked by the institution and the country as a whole. This includes the implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco product packaging as a deterrent for tobacco use.
Also notable is my participation in the drafting, defending and finalization of the Tobacco Control Regulations, 2016 (L.I.2247) which was passed in January 2017.
I have organized together with my team, various educational campaigns in schools, marketplaces, bus terminals, worship settings and the media. My primary goal is to ensure that information on the “detrimental effects of tobacco use” and the “available avenues for cessation” are taken to the doorstep of the Ghanaian community.
These successes have not been all smooth sailing with the interference of tobacco industry’s money and power to influence international legislators and subvert efforts of the WHO FCTC to implement Article 11 of the WHO FCTC, which sets guidelines on packaging and labelling of tobacco products.
These efforts are to trap their target group which is the youth, who after they have become addicted, become regular customers.
Through educational campaigns, particularly in primary and high school, it has been realized that early and persistent exposure, degree of addiction to nicotine and difficulty in cessation are influenced by inherited traits, susceptibility and vulnerability of the age group.
The social environment the individual finds themselves in, and the individual’s cognitions are key influencers of initiation of smoking and successful cessation.
Locally the use of tobacco in cultural rites such as marriages among some ethnic groups in northern Ghana has also been an impediment which was realized during extensive engagement of national agencies and stakeholders throughout the country in tobacco control enforcement.
This has been an area of concern and has influenced the commemoration of this year’s World No Tobacco Day in the Northern Region to gradually infiltrate the northern community and brainstorm with ethnic leaders on possible ways to minimize tobacco use and possibly find alternatives for their customary rites.
The strategy this year is to leverage on the theme for this day’s celebration, “Tobacco: Threat to the Environment” to educate as many communities as possible on detrimental effects on the environment however not neglecting health implications of tobacco use.
The tools currently being employed in my capacity influence the social and cultural norms pertaining to tobacco use. Legislative and regulatory measures are also being enforced through routine monitoring, inspections, swoops and review of existing guidelines to protect the general public and also limit marketing tactics of the tobacco industry.
The strategies are being implemented at both societal and individual levels. Directions are being taken that include interagency collaboration to get running, cessation and rehabilitation facilities to support the campaign to quit and eliminate tobacco use.
World No Tobacco Day is a flagship day set aside to increase awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco use around the world. The Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) instituted the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco pandemic.
Last year the theme for WNTD was “Commit to Quit” and the pharmacist-led campaign in Ghana sought to advance the following goals; (i) raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure; (ii) discourage the use of tobacco in any form; and (iii) make the world tobacco-free.
At the clinic, together with developmental partners such as the WHO – we are currently developing a comprehensive implementation strategy of guidelines for smoking cessation. This is being carried out in a multilateral agency collaboration including clinicians, religious leaders, social groups, regulatory bodies with direct oversight on cessation and rehabilitation activities among other stakeholders.
Evidently pharmacists do play a critical role in tobacco control with the sole purpose of providing people with the tools, support, and resources they need to make a successful commitment in quitting tobacco use.
As it is popularly said, “The best time to quit smoking was the day you started and the second best time to quit is today.”
Dr Olivia Agyekumwaa Boateng (PharmD, Msc. Clinical Pharmacy, Member, Faculty of Quality Assurance, GCPharm)
Director, Tobacco and Substances of Abuse Directorate, Food and Drugs Authority WHO Country Focal Person - Ghana
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