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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ban of cigarette in Abuja: FCTA’s clarion call to the media


“Who is the next journalist we are going to lose to smokingrelated disease?” We lost Steve Kadiri, we lost Yinka Craig, and we lost Kubanji Momoh. Why is it that NUJ secretariats across the country are like smoking dens unlike the secretariats of other professional bodies? said Akinbode Oluwafemi, a former journalist with the Guardian Newspaper, and an activist against cigarette smoking in the countr .
Oluwafemi equally expressed worry that despite their exposure and knowledge, the late journalists, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, as well as the late songstress, Tina Onwudiwe who were chain smokers during their life time shared the same fate as they all died of tobacco related diseases.
According to him, Tina Onwudiwe who reportedly died of cancer started smoking cigarette at the age of 16.
The Programme Manager for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, who was in Abuja for a one day workshop on ‘Tobacco and the Media’ queried journalists on how long they would remain silent while tobacco smoking continues to take away some of the nation’s valuable ones. The workshop which was aimed at getting the mass media on the driver’s seat of the campaign against smoking of cigarette in public places in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, was designed to continue the enforcement of the ban of cigarette smoking in public places in Abuja introduced in 2008 by the then FCT Minister, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar.
More than any of his predecessors, former FCT Minister, Dr. Moddibo , has etched his name in the book of history as the first minister to ban smoking of cigarette in public places in Abuja. It was in view of this feat that he was given an award by the World Health Organisation (WHO) even after the expiration of his tenure.
In the same vein, Modibbo, also won accolades from those who have been kicking against the sales and consumption of tobacco products in the country.
Modibbo indeed invoked the provision of Tobacco Control Act of 1990 on August 31, 2008 to make public smoking of cigarette within the FCT a criminal act, no matter how highly placed a person might be. Ever since, there have been repeated calls from anti-smoking groups to have smoking of cigarette banned in all the 39 states of the federation.
Most of the calls against tobacco smoking in the country also include heavy taxation of the product to discourage consumers as cigarette according to anti-smoking activists and health practitioners, remains a product in which consumers do not derive any benefit.
To ensure that tobacco and cigarette are totally eliminated from the country, most of the agitators have also been looking forward to how the tobacco companies in the country would eventually be flushed out.However, in all their campaigns against smoking of cigarette, a missing link has been identified which is said to be a key factor in ensuring that all efforts at shutting down tobacco factories in the country become successful. Still perturbed by the tobacco situation in the country especially among men of the pen pushing profession, who according to him have huge capacity for creating mass awareness on any issue, Oluwafemi asked: “ Is a writer that guy with a cigarette in one hand and writing with the other hand”?
The media, he explained, are trusted by the public and policy makers as they (media) connect the political agenda with policy agenda. He noted that Nigerian media has an history of advocacy journalism and should not fail in this regard to make the public see the evil in the production and consumption of cigarette.
He revealed that contrary to belief in some parts of the country, especially in Oke Ogun area of Oyo State where the British America Tobacco Company (BAT) has tobacco plantations, a recent report by the UN and the World Bank has indicated that tobacco business or cultivation is not a sustainable business anywhere across the world.
It is against this realisation that he said that both the UN and the World Bank have stopped sponsoring investment in tobacco related production or business.
But what is role for the media in the campaign? The anti-tobacco smoking exponent noted that though the failure of the federal government to impose heavy tax on the products has continued to encourage more patronage from the public, the mass media is feared greatly by the tobacco industry.
“The media is the only medium through which tobacco advocates can communicate with both members of the public and policy makers at the same time,” he said, adding “the use of mass media for effective tobacco control gained momentum in the 1990s in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.”
Again, he stressed that mass media campaigns are an effective tobacco control strategy as they increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, encourage quitting and motivate change in both smokers and non-smokers.
The former journalist, convinced that media can help win the war against cigarette in the country, advocated that media houses should create one ‘tobacco journalist’ per media house. This, he explained could be done when such journalists capacity is boosted to report tobacco issues.
Although he argued that tobacco to some journalists is not as attractive as other issues such as AIDS, malaria, poverty, corruption and bad governance, Oluwafemi opined that media can be used to advocate tighter tobacco control laws and implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which Nigeria is a signatory.
Why the war against tobacco smoking? The anti-smoking activist explained that the adult smoking rate in Nigeria is put at 17 per cent which translate to mean that there are over 13 million active smokers in the country.
“Since half of smokers die of tobacco related diseases, it also goes to show that over 6.5 million Nigerians are on death row due to tobacco addiction. Tobacco kills, it kills over 5 million people every year,” he said.
He added: “Tobacco is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, a major risk factor for cancers as well as a major risk factor for about 44 different kinds of diseases. There are over 4000 carcinogens in tobacco smoke.”
While corroborating this, the FCT administration Secretary for Social Development Secretariat, Barrister Habiba Sani Kalgo, said the media has a great role to play in the process of sensitising the public and should not be left out in the chain of reaction if all the efforts at making members of the public appreciating the ‘stop smoking in public places campaign’ must be successful.
Barrister Kalgo who spoke at the workshop organised by her secretariat in partnership with the Nigeria Tobacco Situation Analysis (NTSA) for FCT Press Corps stressed that the job of sensitising the public on the hazard of smoking cigarette would be made easier with mass media incorporated into the FCTA’s campaign against the habit.
“The workshop we are having today with the media is in recognition of your importance in the success of the campaign. Indeed, the power of the media in effective communication cannot be over-emphasised. We have brought our friends from the Nigeria Tobacco Situation Analysis (NTSA) to properly educate us on this very significant health issue.”
Currying the support of the mass media in the FCT administration’s war against smoking of cigarette in public places in Abuja, the Social Development Secretary said: “Our beautiful city of Abuja as you know has put its name in history books as one of the few cities in the world to have officially banned smoking in public places. We therefore urge you to join the FCT administration in our noble course of promoting healthy living and public health safety of Abuja residents.”
At the end of the workshop in which journalists from media houses like the Nigerian Compass, the Nation, Leadership, Vanguard, NTA, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Hot FM, Rhythm FM, Daily Trust, People’s Daily, AIT, ITV, DBN, The Champion among others, were present, there was an atmosphere of conviction among journalists that the war is worth fighting as at least tobacco smoking has claimed some of their loved ones. Hence, they cannot wait to see another one stolen away by a preventable habit.