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Friday, January 8, 2010

Reducing Tobacco-Related Deaths

By Ozioma Ubabukoh

African nations seem poised to undergo the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use among developing countries, and nearly 90 per cent of people on the continent, perhaps, remain without meaningful protection from second-hand smoke, according to a new report released at a regional conference recently.
The report, ”Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smoke-free Air”, however, tend to point to signs of hope. Several African countries are fighting against the tobacco industry‘s aggressive campaigns to stop public health interventions by putting smoke-free laws into place, probably protecting more than 100 million more people since 2007. This report was published by the Global Smoke-free Partnership.
Recent data suggest that, with current trends, more than half of the region of Africa may double its tobacco consumption within 12 years. And to check this, ”Smoke-free public places are one example of a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented now to protect health”, said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
In about less than two years, Kenya and Niger Republic have enacted national smoke-free policies, and South Africa, which has been smoke-free since 2007, according to reports by environment reporters, has been termed to play an important role in the region, demonstrating that smoke-free laws could work in Africa. In what seemed as a first for the region, Mauritius recently passed a law that is close to meeting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control standards, ranking among the most robust anti-smoking measures in the world.
According to the American Cancer Society monitoring team report, implementation remains a challenge in many places, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda. Even with the ban placed on smoking in public places in Abuja, the nation‘s federal capital, in 2008, by its former minister, Alhaji Aliyu Umar Modibbo, the city is seen as most vulnerable to the campaign of ensuring a smoke-free society.
”In Abuja, Nigeria, for example, 55 per cent of school students are not aware that second-hand smoke is harmful to health, and only 1 per cent of Nigeria‘s population is protected by strong smoke-free laws”, the report said.
It also exposes the tobacco industry‘s tactics to hold back legislation and convince African governments that tobacco is important to economic activity; that raising taxes on cigarettes and implementing smoke-free laws will result in revenue and job losses. In Kenya, for instance, it was reported that the tobacco industry issued a legal challenge to a smoke-free law passed by the Parliament. In Zambia equally, the British American Tobacco company has been accused of aiming to dilute proposals for a smoke-free law.
Some people have alleged that the campaign against tobacco smoking, especially in Nigeria, seems to be hindered by some journalists who would rather comment on any other health issue, no matter how agonising, than report or write on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
According to them, some journalists are of the belief that the best writers are those who smoke and drink. And they have passed this notion to the younger ones planning to take up a career in journalism.
The National Coordinator, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, said this might be responsible for deaths of more journalists from tobacco-related ailments.
Oluwafemi, who is also the Programme Manager, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, said, ”For how long are we going to be silent? Several Nigerian journalists and activists are aware that they are dying from cancer of the lungs and tobacco-related ailments, yet they have kept the stick burning. On most occasions, they lead the campaign against smoking, and immediately after that you find them lighting the stick. We have lost the likes of Steve the sleek Kadiri, Momoh Kubanji, Yinka Craig and Beko Ransome Kuti to tobacco smoking.
”Cancer control programme should be linked to tobacco control. Journalists should lead on awareness creation. It is time to be open about our friends, brothers and sisters dieing of tobacco- related cancers. Let‘s support the passage of the national tobacco control Bill.”
It is estimated that in 2010 smoking will claim the lives of six million people worldwide, 72 per cent of whom reside in low and middle-income countries, Nigeria inclusive. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill seven million people annually by 2020 and more than 8 million people annually by 2030.