With strict anti-smoking campaigns and tobacco laws now becoming common place in North America and Europe, the tobacco industry has found a new place to focus their attention- Africa.

Advocates are concerned with the recent upward trend in smoking on the continent.  The American Cancer Society and the Global Smokefree Partnership fear that more than half of African countries will double tobacco use within 12 years if the epidemic is not put to a stop.  Many warn the highest increase will be among developing countries.

There are less stringent laws on advertising in many African countries, many of which are geared at youth or the less educated, and hark back to old cigarette ad’s which portray smoking as sexy, cool, and a sign of success.

In this short special from This World, one journalists attempts to uncover how the British American Tobacco is attempting to target the youth in Africa and are more than aware that  “new smokers enter the market at a very early age, in many cases as early as 8 or 9 years.”

And sadly, there is less education on the effects of tobacco or even secondhand smoke in many regions. In an article by Red Orbit, they suggest that in Abuja, Nigeria, for example, 55 percent of students are unaware that secondhand smoke is harmful to health, and smoke-free laws protect just 1 percent of the population.  A new report ‘Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smoke free Air’ has raised alarm that 90 percent of Africans are exposed to second hand smoke.

But not all countries are taking the epidemic lightly. Kenya, Niger, and Mauritius are just a few that have recently passed some-free laws. But, it has proved not to be so easy in many other places.  Dr Twalib Ngoma, president of the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), said in an article by the BBC that while many governments in Africa have signed up to legislation on tobacco, it is difficult to enforce those laws.

“We have legislation in Tanzania… but enforcement of that legislation is not easy. Tobacco companies are all too powerful. They lobby and lobby and lobby.”

In the same BBC article,  Adam Spielman, a tobacco industry analyst with Citigroup, says that the African market is only at 10% or less of the profits of the biggest companies, the demand is growing and companies see that demand as an opportunity to boost prices.

“If a consumer is addicted to tobacco, then it is possible to put prices up and they will go without lunch.”

However, some are concerned how the decline in tobacco will effect the economy in many countries who depend on the revenue tobacco garners each year.  In the Scientific American, Evan Blecher, a tobacco control economist with the ACS in South Africa, notes:

“There are some costs associated with declines in consumption,” including loss of livelihood for tobacco farmers and increased smuggling… “although these costs are outweighed by the benefits.”

There is fear that too many are focused on the current AIDS, tuberculosis, or malaria endemics on the continent to take notice of what many see now as a tobacco epidemic, which has a potential to claim many of the 60 to 80 million projected smokers on the continent.