The warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that passive smoking constitutes a global threat, is revealing and must be checked.
The UN agency had in its second major report on the "tobacco epidemic" released last week, said second-hand or passive smoking killed nearly 600,000 people each year. WHO, which also warned that tobacco is still the leading preventable cause of death, killing five million people every year, said more and more people were likely to suffer from the harmful effects of passive smoking.
According to the agency, only 5 per cent of people in the world are protected from second-hand smoke in public areas. Insisting that unless more stringent measures were taken to minimize smoking's impact, WHO said that of the world's 100 most populous cities, just over a fifth, or 22 are smoke free.
Last year, WHO unveiled six strategies that countries could implement to protect their people from the harm of cigarettes. These include smoking bans, higher tobacco taxes and bans on tobacco advertising. The 2005 WHO Framework on Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) made it clear that banning of smoking in public places is essential to not only protect nonsmokers, but to make it easier for those who want to quit to stay smoke-free.
WHO, which lamented that just a mere 17 nations had passed comprehensive smoke- free laws, raised the alarm that the annual death toll from tobacco related diseases could rise to eight million by 2030.
It is sad that despite the well documented effects of smoking on humans, countries have more or less, continued to pay lip-service to fighting what from all indications, constitutes one of the major health challenges of the 21st century. No less a body than the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said that 200,000 workers die every year due to exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke at work. WHO estimates that around 700 million children, or almost half of the world's children, breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke which is generally carcigenous.
Given the insalubrious effects of tobacco smoking, governments the world over must rise to the challenge of not only protecting passive smokers, but ensuring that smokers alike are regularly reminded of the risks they face. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Action is, therefore, needed by governments to protect their people from the dangers posed by this type of smoking.
Besides, the fact that more than 94 per cent of people remain unprotected by smoke-free laws three years after international tobacco control measures introduced the requirement, shows that much work needs to be done. Governments must implement the 2005 WHO Framework which 170 nations have signed. As it is said, passive smoking kills people and being passive about it will also kill.
For Nigeria, which is a signatory to the WHO FCTC, the challenge posed by passive smoking is by no means less daunting. Although there are no available data on passive smoking, a report by an Expert Committee on Non-communicable diseases in 1988 certified that 4.5 million Nigerians were smokers. The committee set up by the federal health authorities, also said Nigerians smoked close to seven million sticks of cigarettes daily, which according to then Health Minister, Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, added up to 49 million sticks a week, or 196 million sticks a month.
It is pertinent to add that it was during Olikoye's tenure as Health Minister under the Ibrahim Babangida regime, that a law against smoking in public places was enacted. Unfortunately, the law all but exists in name as a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) had it that over 60 per cent of Nigerian undergraduates smoked. Given the very lax nature of the law on smoking and the general lack of awareness about passive smoking in the country and its consequences, it is not unlikely that the general population are at risk.
While it must be stated that Nigerians are also exposed to other equally deleterious forms of fumes such as acid rain and fumes from automobiles, no effort should be spared to save lives that are exposed to this danger. Indeed, every single life is important and as much as possible, life should be safeguarded.
There is no gainsaying that smoking places a huge burden on health care provisions all around the world. Governments should, therefore, embark on aggressive public enlightenment campaigns to sensitise Nigerians on the effects of passive smoking, and indeed, smoking in general. No effort should be spared to ensure that Nigerians stay healthy.