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Although Rwanda does not have a high number of people who smoke tobacco, a study conducted by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research(IPAR-Rwanda) with funding from the African Capacity Building Foundation(ACBF) based in Harare, Zimbabwe, has recommended different measures to curb smoking in the country.

Tobacco smoking in Rwanda has been going down since 2014 partly due to awareness and enforcement of the law on tobacco control. For example, smoking rate among males aged between 15 and 49 years reduced from 12% to 7% between 2014 and 2020. In the same period, among females aged between 15 and 49 years, smoking rate reduced from 2% to 0.9%.

Despite the reduction, smoking is still a public health challenge in Rwanda especially with the rising cases of non-communicable diseases such as cancer and other health risks related to smoking.

The study on “Determinants of Tobacco Use Among Adults in Rwanda” aimed at investigating the determinants of cigarette smoking and smoking intensity among male adults in Rwanda and its findings were released in April 2023.

The findings of the study indicate that smoking is rampant among male population and those who smoke are associated with poverty and less education. Some of the findings of the study include :

• About 10.4% of males sampled aged 18 to 59 years old smoke cigarette
• Smokers smoke around 5 sticks of cigarette every day
• A larger number of the sampled men (49.1%) are aged 18-32 years
• Sampled men spend around 6 years in school
• 44.4% of the sampled men belong to the higher income group
• Majority of the sampled men (92.3%) listen to the radio
• About 64.9% of sampled men watch television
• About 95% of the sampled men are Christians

Challenges impeding tobacco control
The study showed that achieving tobacco control is still a challenge and it is constrained by the following factors :

• Inadequate coordination among stakeholders involved in tobacco control
• Lack of awareness on tobacco use health risks among some smokers
• Lack of exact tobacco price at the market (price volatility)
• Some cancer patients fail to cooperate with medical instructions
• Tobacco control law : not adequately enforced and implemented.

Recommendations to boost tobacco control

The recommendations of the study to boost tobacco control and smoking include :
Increasing public awareness and education through media on the risks of smoking : The study proved that media especially radio plays a vital role in discouraging smoking behavior among male adults in Rwanda. Thus, government and key stakeholders through media could disseminate relevant information on the health risks of smoking to the community through radio to deter the population from smoking ;
Strengthening 12 Years Basic Education (12YBE) Program : Strengthening the 12 Years’ Basic Education (12YBE), offered free of charge by public schools, and compulsory for all children will help to reduce smoking among Rwandan male adults in the near future ;
Improving income of poor households : The study indicated that male adults in the lower income category have a higher probability of smoking. By improving the incomes of the poor households, the government will help control tobacco smoking among the households in this category : The study recommends the government to strengthen poverty eradication policies (social protection including Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP)) that raise poor households’ income
Increase tobacco taxes and set fixed tobacco prices : There is no fixed price for cigarettes on the market. The government should increase the existing taxes and set fixed prices on cigarettes in order to discourage smoking
• Availing smoking areas in cheap bars and their surroundings : There are few places designated for smoking in places such as hotels, restaurants and bars which attract many people. Increasing places designated for smoking will help protect people from health risks associated with second-hand smoking in public areas.
Promote and enhance research on tobacco control : The study confirmed the need for promoting and enhancing research studies on tobacco control that involve key actors such as cancerology departments among others. In this regards, the government in collaboration with key stakeholders in tobacco control should encourage more research to provide evidence on the implementation of effective tobacco control interventions.