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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Preventing Tobacco Addiction Among Our Women

The recently released statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of an increasing global trend of women and girls who have taken to the deadly habit of tobacco smoking is scary. Of the 5.4 million victims that die every year, 1.5 million are girls and women. In half of the 151 countries recently surveyed, approximately as many girls use tobacco as boys. WHO even claims that Nigeria is not only amongst these countries but now has more female smokers than males. Contestable as this may seem, it is no doubt a warning signal that urgent intervention from all concerned organs of government is necessary.
According to WHO’s Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, the trend in some countries is “extremely worrisome”. She also asserts that that tobacco use “is neither liberating nor glamorous”, contrary to the advert campaign of the marketers. It is probable that this misconception is helping to lure more girls into the widening web of the addictive consumption.
The theme of the 2010 anti-tobacco campaign is focused on ‘tobacco and women’, with an emphasis on marketing to women and the concomitant harmful effects. Similarly, the need for governments to ban the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco is being highlighted, with the aim of eliminating tobacco smoke from all public places. The goal is in tandem with WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
A new strategy being used by manufacturers and marketers is to link smoking with attractiveness, which easily fascinates young girls, ultimately making them helpless victims. Nigeria’s inclusion in countries with worsening tobacco use, it has been revealed, is also traceable to the harmful effects of passive or second-hand smoking. Also, growing social frustration caused by poor governance has led to mass youth unemployment and the erroneous belief that smoking offers some relief, even if temporarily. Up North, seasonal harsh weather sometimes induces more people into smoking. Unfortunately, they end up harming their pulmonary system more than they care to know.
Smoking refers basically to the habit of inhaling smoke from cigarettes. Not a few teenagers imbibe it from their parents, relations and friends, who are smokers. The health consequences are grave, however, for the users as well as those around them. According to the WHO, tobacco smoke contains some 4,000 deadly chemicals, chief of which are vaporized nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, concentrated at the end of the cigarette stick. The first signs of ill health arising from tobacco use is a slight cough, which graduates to bronchial cough, that later degenerates into lung cough. Research specialists explain that the toxic chemicals settle at the junction of the bronchus and bronchioles, where most cases of lung cancer begin. In addition, the membranes lining the respiratory system become thickened with the irritating chemicals. This causes the removal of the protective cilia which normally absorb dust and pathogenic microbes that could cause life-threatening diseases.
Once the smoke is continually inhaled it contracts the air passage and constricts the voice box or larynx, leading to swollen vocal cords and smokers’ cough. In severe cases, it causes chronic bronchitis and laryngeal cancer. In addition, the presence of the aldehydes in smoke worsens stomach ulcer. Smoke reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, thereby weakening the power of the cells to function optimally. Its deposits narrow the arteries, causing gangrene, leading to amputation for some victims.
Researches since 1939 have indicated the bad effects of smoking in advanced countries. But the WHO says that today over 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. This reflects the fact that several major cigarette manufacturers have relocated from the advanced economies with their more stringent anti-tobacco laws, and are now consciously exporting death to the developing countries. According to the Programme Manager of Environmental Rights in Nigeria, an affiliate of Friends Of The Earth, Akin Oluwafemi, two persons die each day in Lagos hospitals as a consequence of tobacco–related ailments.
This is a dangerous trend, and we are alarmed, in this connection, that the Senator Olorunimbe Mamora-sponsored Anti-tobacco Bill is suffering from what he terms deliberate moves to scuttle it by some of his colleagues. The fact that the Senate Committee on Health is headed by a female lawmaker, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, and the focus of this year’s anti-tobacco theme is on discouraging women from smoking, should help to speed up the bill’s passage into law.
Expansion in economic production, leading to mass creation of jobs especially for the idle youth, will reduce the helplessness of the government in accepting the short-term economic benefits of tobacco manufacturing in the country. What use is it, in the long run, to offer jobs to some citizens in tobacco factories and farms, and pay taxes into the public coffers, only for the people’s health to be destroyed some years later at a prohibitive cost to public health care and citizens’ purses? The government cannot fold its arms and allow this preventable scourge to ravage the public, already battling with a legion other woes. No effort should be spared in discouraging Nigerian smokers, especially the future mothers of our children, from preventable death.