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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tobacco or health? It's decision time!


The Senate's failure to act on the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) immediately after the public hearing of July 2009, has now made the bill a toy in the hand of a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Senator Kamarudeen Adedibu representing Oyo South Constituency, no doubt, did a hatchet man's job and got a pat on the back when he said the National Tobacco Control Bill which has passed through its second stage at the Senate is dead. This statement credited to Adedibu in national dailies is a slap on the face of his colleagues. After all, no one can deny the dangerous effects of tobacco use.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco currently kills 5.4 million people globally, and if left unchecked, this number will increase to 8 million - with devastating results for developing countries which will contribute about 70 percent of that figure. In the 20th century, the tobacco epidemic killed 100 million people, but the WHO says in this century, it could kill one billion people.
Meanwhile, statistics from Nigeria are staggering. A survey from the 2006 census, for instance, reveals that more than 13 million Nigerians smoke cigarettes, even as another one conducted in 11 Lagos State government-owned hospitals that same year revealed that at least two persons die every day from a tobacco-related disease, while over 9,000 cases of tobacco infections were recorded.
Also, every year, smoking among young people increases by at least 20 percent, a situation which makes Nigeria and indeed Africa the fastest-growing market for tobacco manufacturers The Federal Government, on September 24, 2001, at what it called the first official Investment Summit, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BAT. Under the terms of agreement, the tobacco giant was to invest a whopping $150 million in the country. It was part of government's search for "foreign investors," and BAT pretended to be the saviour of the former President, President Olusegun Obasanjo, after his tireless search for foreign investment. If the Obasanjo regime did it ignorantly, the present administration cannot claim to be ignorant about the fact that tobacco kills.
There are several ways to view the Senate's stalling action on the bill. The tobacco industry has been given time to hook more young Nigerians on smoking, as every lost day sees another replacement smoker recruited - and we may not see the implication of this action until about 20 years' time. That said, delay on the important health bill will create avoidable problems for the future generation.
Indeed, in developed countries, tobacco companies and their owners are being isolated and choked with harsh laws. Now they invade our continent in the name of foreign investment. Already, tobacco use is responsible for one in 10 adult deaths, and by 2030, the figure is expected to be one in six, or 10 million deaths each year - more than any other cause including the projected death tolls from pneumonia, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and the complications of childbirth for that year combined. If current trends persist, about 500 million people alive today will eventually be killed by tobacco, half of them in productive middle age, losing 20 to 25 years of life.
Tobacco contains nicotine, a substance that is recognised to be addictive by the WHO. Tobacco dependence is listed in the International Classification of Diseases, and fulfills the key criteria for addiction or dependence, including compulsive use. Cigarettes, unlike chewed tobacco, enable nicotine to reach the brain rapidly, within a few seconds of inhaling smoke.
However, the toll of death and disability from smoking in developing countries is yet to be felt. This is because the diseases caused by smoking can take several decades to develop. Even when smoking is very common in a population, the damage to health may not yet be visible. This point can be most clearly demonstrated by trends in lung cancer in the United States.
The Osun State government has signed a state bill to regulate the activities of tobacco companies and tobacco use in the state. While one expects other states to emulate them, the Senate should rise to protect public health by making a demand on its health committee to produce a report on the public hearing for the passage of the bill.
That way, the Senate will etch its name in gold under the leadership Senator David Mark for passing the National tobacco control bill.