The governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, the Republic of Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, the Falkland Islands, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Kosovo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Western Sahara and Yemen have not yet established a legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products.

To make things worse, the legislatures in those 22 countries do not seem to be intending to propose establishing a legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products anytime soon.

The logistics

Many of the countries that I’ve mentioned lack adequate modern healthcare systems, and some regions within many of those countries are frequently plagued with famine and outbreaks of diseases. 

Terrorist cells continue to emerge in some of those countries.  Street crime, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, weapons smuggling, international criminal gangs who smuggle counterfeit currency and many other problems plague those countries.

You have to ask yourself, if you were a politician in those countries, which of the issues that I’ve mentioned would seem to be the least urgent?

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Tobacco use among preteens does not need to be addressed with the same immediacy as the other issues.

The governments in many of those countries lack the funding to adequately address most of the issues that I’ve mentioned. Therefore, it would be impossible for them to allocate funding for sending policemen and policewomen to check to see that stores are not selling tobacco products to people who are under the age of 16 or 18. 

Because a minimum age for purchasing tobacco products would be unenforceable in many of the countries politicians are not considering proposing a minimum age for purchasing tobacco products.

Teenagers should not get addicted to tobacco

Because a lower percentage of the populations of those countries go to school than in the developed world, and because illiteracy rates in some of the countries that I’ve listed are high, teenagers and preteens who live in those countries are less likely to be able to fully aware of all of the illnesses that are caused by tobacco use than teenagers and preteens who live in more economically developed countries.  

The minds of preteens and teenagers are more impressionable and malleable than the minds of adults, which is part of the reason that preteens and teenagers are so susceptible to become addicted to tobacco products.

Teenagers and preteens in countries in the developing world cannot afford to become addicted to tobacco products.  Because of the poverty which is prevalent throughout many regions of those countries, people need to be saving a large percentage of the money that they earn so that they can afford to purchase food, clothing and medical expenses. 

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The only way that these countries will ever be able to address any of the issues that I’ve mentioned is for them to have a healthy population.

Some politicians in some of those countries may also feel that establishing a minimum age for purchasing tobacco products is not necessary. 

In a number of the countries that I’ve listed, it’s not uncommon for people to drop out of school at a young age because they need to work so that they can earn enough income to assist in feeding and clothing their families.  As I’ve mentioned, in some regions of those countries access to clean water and electricity is difficult.  By the time someone has reached their preteen and their teen years in some of those countries, they may likely have lost family members or neighbors due to famine, diseases, accidents, terrorist attacks, wars or homicides, they’ve likely seen people who have been killed or severely injured by animals, and they’ve witnessed international criminal gangs and police corruption. 

These situations will be stressful for people of all ages, however this is a particularly enormous amount of stress for teenagers and preteens to have to live with every day. 

Some of the politicians in the countries which lack an established legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products may feel that if someone who is 12, 13 or 14 years old is working 1, 2 or even 3 jobs, they’re earning money to assist in feeding and clothing their families.

One of the few things that helps the feel relaxed at the end of a stressful day is smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes or pipe tobacco, then why not allow them to purchase cigarettes, e-cigarettes or pipe tobacco? 

WHO and the tobacco products

There are a number of ways that this issue can successfully be addressed.  The governments of the countries that I’ve listed are not considering proposing legislation which would establish a minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco products because they lack the resources to attempt to enforce a minimum age. 

The World Health Organization could work with other United Nations agencies, regional IGO’s such as the African Union and the national governments of the 22 countries in which it is still legal for preteens to purchase tobacco products to address this issue.

If the WHO and other UN agencies do not address the issue of easy access legal to tobacco products for preteens in the countries that I’ve mentioned, then charity agencies can also attempt to address this issue in those countries.

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If public awareness about this issue were raised in the 22 countries that I’ve mentioned, people may be inspired to create comparable organizations in the countries which still lack an established legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, and this issue would eventually be solved.  Raising awareness about this issue could potentially be accomplished through a combination of discussing this issue in the schools and public service advertising on radio and television stations, in magazines, newspapers and billboards.

This concerns you too

People who do not live or work in the countries whose governments have yet to establish a minimum age for purchasing tobacco products may believe that this issue does not affect them.  However, this issue affects everybody in the entire world.  

Tobacco is in fact a plant, it grows on land, and if the demand for the product is reduced enough, the people who grow it will discover that it will become more cost effective for them to grow crops which can be used for food or as feedstocks for biofuels.  

The recent events of 2020 and 2021 have illustrated that we can no longer afford to be reckless with any resources anywhere in the world, and the need to continue to be careful use of land throughout the world will become an increasingly issue as the population of the world increases. 

The UNPD predicts that the population of the world will likely reach 9.7 billion people by the mid 2050’s, and the world population will likely continue to expand into the new centuries.  We cannot live without food, fuel and clean air.  We can however live without tobacco.   


Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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