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Friday, June 4, 2010

Report of the Symposium by ERA/FoEN to Mark the 2010 World No Tobacco Day

In commemoration of the 2010 World No Tobacco Day (May 31st), the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth office in Lagos held a symposium that attracted about 100 participants drawn from Lagos and Ogun State.
The symposium which held at the Excellence Hotel in Lagos dwelt on this year’s theme: ‘Tobacco and Gender, With Emphasis on Marketing to Women’. It had speakers drawn from the medical, journalism, consumer rights and other backgrounds.
A lively and enlightening event, it witnessed lectures, speeches, a playlet, song and poetry presentations, testimonies from former smokers and question and answer sessions.

WNTD2010 Slideshow

In her opening remark, Betty Abah, ERA/FoEN’s Gender Focal Person said the theme of this year’s WNTD was timely because it would help put the searchlight on the mostly ignored fact that women are major victims of the tobacco epidemic either as second hand smokers or as those at the receiving end of the aggressive and deceptive marketing devices of the killer tobacco industry. ‘Through systematic, steady and penetrating marketing devices estimated to cost $ 13 Billion annually, they have targeted poor, struggling countries... and are now recruiting women, who traditionally, do not smoke as much...’she noted.
According to Abah, the World Health Organisation’s statistics show that there are over a billion smokers in the world today, 250 of which are women and therefore account for the 5.5 million people killed from tobacco-related diseases. She called on women to take up their rights to health and prevent further mortality in the hands of spouses, male colleagues and other smokers, and also to pressurize stakeholders to promulgate laws that would ensure smoke-free atmospheres. She cited the example of India where the tobacco control advocates are now calling for smoke-free homes and cars to safeguard the health of women and children.

In an illustrative presentation tagged ‘Tobacco and Women: Time for Action’, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, ERA/FoEN’s program manager, head of Lagos office and of the Tobacco Control desk presented facts and figures supporting the fact that tobacco use was a looming disaster in Nigeria, and also that more and more women are taking up the deadly habit. Some of the statistics include:

. Adult smoking rate in Nigeria is put at 17 per cent.
. The smoking rate implies that there are over 13 million active smokers in Nigeria.
. Since half of smokers die of tobacco related diseases, it also go to show that over 6.5 million Nigerians are on death row due to tobacco addiction.

Mr. Oluwafemi noted that the tobacco industry is currently utilizing fashion shows, movies and special ‘feminine brands’ to attract women. He called for the implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which entails the banning of smoking in public places, raising the taxes on tobacco products, as well as support for the National Tobacco Bill sponsored by ERA/FoEN, and which is currently at the National Assembly. ‘Until that is done, our women will continue to bear the greatest brunt of the tobacco epidemic. Apart from active tobacco use, they will continue to be victims of second-hand smokes considering that they do not have negotiating power such as to stop their men from smoking around them, ‘ he added.

Dr. Kemi Odukoya, of the Community Health Department at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba in her presentation pointed out that women are at a higher health risk than men. She pointed out a recent study which showed that:

• Women who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer than male smokers
• Women also seem to need fewer cigarettes to do so
• Women also find it more difficult than men to quit smoking

Besides the general cancer consequences, she said smoking causes grievous harms to a woman’s cardiovascular system, lung function, reproductive health, bone density, affects her during pregnancy, not to mention the harm on her mental health, and multifaceted social and economic effects. Other major health effect peculiar to women are menstrual problems, pelvic inflammatory disease, reduced fertility and premature menopause.

And, on second hand smoke, she added that owing to constant exposures in home and workplaces, researches have it that globally, of the approximately 430 000 adult deaths caused every year by second-hand smoke, about 64% occur in women.

Ugonmah Cokey, former states chairperson of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), gave a presentation on how journalists can utilize their mediums to stem the smoking tide and shame the merchants of death.

Mr. Lanre Oginni, executive director of All Nigeria Consumer Movement Union (ANCOMU), gave an impassioned speech on the rights of consumers to smoke-free environments.

One of the most emotional and captivating talks came from Mr. Leke Adeneye, a former smoker. Adeneye, a journalist spoke on his 13-year ordeal. He started smoking at about age 14 and when he quit 13 years later, the habit had devastated his health, his social life and ultimately cost him his education as he dabbled into drugs, cultism and had to be rusticated from the University of Lagos. A second attempt at re-entering the university was also bungled as he arrived late into the entrance exams hall at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, from the kiosk where he had gone to take long drags at cigarettes. He finally quit the deadly habit when he noticed symptoms of oral cancer. He used the opportunity to warn youngsters on the consequences of smoking. ‘Cigarette burnt my pockets, my health and almost cost me my life. Don’t let it happen to you,’ he admonished.

Another former smoker, Mr. Donatus Nwaogu, also spoke about his ugly experience.

About 30 students drawn from three schools attended the event and participated actively. They include students of Ikeja Senior Grammar School, Oshodi, Lagos, Perfect Praise Secondary School, Olowora, Lagos, and Champions International Secondary School, Magboro, Ogun State. They were poetry and songs presentations from the first two, and a playlet titled ‘Oh, Smokers!’ from students of Champions International Secondary School which drew a loud applause from the audience.

ERA’s tobacco control materials (including the haunting ‘Body of a Smoker’ adapted from a WHO publication) were given out to the guests. Being a ladies’ day, the older female participants also received special gifts in the form of purple-coloured purses from ERA female staff attired in purple Ankara materials, and who worked as ushers.

Besides the huge media coverage at the event, Mr. Oluwafemi granted an interview at NN24, a new satellite television station in Ikeja, Lagos, on the theme of the day.

In all, it was a day to remember, a fun time, but also a time to reflect on a global health issue, to warn of the danger of a deadly habit, and to strategize for actions that will save lives.

Betty Abah
Gender Focal Person