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Monday, August 10, 2009

Ondo battles Big Tobacco

Damisi Ojo

Ondo State Government has joined the crusade to reduce tobacco-induced illnesses and deaths occasioned by cigarette smoking. The state is on the verge of instituting a legal action against tobacco companies for allegedly luring youths into smoking in order to enhance the companies’ profit margin. Ondo believes smoking habits seriously hamper public health and strain government’s financial base. Already, some states including Oyo, Kano, Osun, Gombe and the Federal Government are pursuing anti-tobacco cases both at the state and national assemblies. A bill to this effect is sponsored at the Senate by Lagos Senator, Olorunnibe Mamora.
A non-governmental organisation, the Coalition Against Tobacco (CAT), at a workshop it organised recently in Akure, the state capital, said the programme was meant to sensitise the citizenry on the ongoing court action against tobacco industries in the state.
A resource person from the State Ministry of Health, Mr. O.O. Akinsote said the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics showed that about 5.4m people died of tobacco-related diseases in 2006. This makes it one death in every 6.5 seconds. Akinsote also stressed that a survey conducted on 12 government-owned health facilities in Lagos indicated that at least two persons died everyday from tobacco related diseases. According to him, this is more fatal than AIDS branded the "killer disease".
He revealed that a recent annual report of the British-American Tobacco Company (BATC) stated that major profits raked in by tobacco companies came from Nigeria, while over 20 brands of cigarettes were on sale in the country’s open market.
The expert urged the state lawmakers to pass a bill prohibiting tobacco smoking in states like Osun, Oyo, Kano and others. He said the group would soon sponsor a bill at the state parliament apart from the litigation process that would commence soon.
The Former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osibajo had on April 30, 2007 sued five tobacco companies in the country seeking special and anticipatory damages against the tobacco companies.
Akinsote disclosed that Lagos State government spent N216,000 each on two persons that died of tobacco related diseases in its state hospitals while individuals spent an additional N70,000.
Scores of other resource persons on anti-tobacco crusade made presentations at the sensitisation workshop.