THIS year’s World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) held recently has again brought to the fore the necessity to seriously address long-standing issue of smoking and its health implications in Nigeria. Over the years, tobacco smoking has been associated with grave health problems well-known to the tobacco companies as well as many consumers of the product, who suffer the deleterious consequences.
But business considerations on the part of the companies on the one hand; and addiction, coupled with ignorance on the part of most consumers, particularly in the developing world, on the other hand, threaten the anti tobacco smoking campaign and render it a herculean task. Worse still is the confirmed fact that non-smokers are exposed to even more critical health problems from passive smoking, all of which should spur the authorities to increase their effort to protect the citizens from preventable death.
Due of its alarming public health effects, tobacco smoking has been banned in many places in the developed world. Interestingly, the United States and many European countries are at the forefront of the fight against tobacco smoking. It would appear that the tobacco companies are consequently shifting ground and targeting poor African countries with teeming youthful population.
These issues formed the plank in this year’s anti-tobacco day. The World Health Organization (WHO) used the occasion to reiterate the dangers of tobacco smoking and the efforts being made to protect populations around the world. WHO’s estimate that tobacco smoking would kill more than eight million people annually by 2030 is frightening, showing that the battle against tobacco is far from being won. And this is attributable to the aggressive marketing strategy of tobacco manufacturers.
Assertive adverts displayed on any available media space portray false satisfaction to smokers. The caution on tobacco packs that cigarette smoking can kill or is injurious to health does not seem to restrain the addicts, and is often inconspicuously displayed. Millions are dying silently every year from tobacco related health problems. It has been found that tobacco is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases. Sadly, there is no reliable statistics on the deaths or illnesses caused by tobacco smoking in Nigeria to enable the health authorities take full control measures.
WHO has reportedly released a technical brief based on the 2008 guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 of the 2003 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to help guide countries on ways to combat “tobacco industry interference” in the anti-tobacco campaign. According to the organisation’s Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, “In recent years, multinational tobacco companies have been shamelessly fuelling a series of legal actions against governments that have been in the forefront of the war against tobacco”.
She noted that the industry is now stepping out of shadow into court rooms, thereby making it imperative for a united effort to support governments that have the courage to do the right thing to protect their citizens. Unfortunately, corruption is a potent factor that would hinder some governments. Corrupt government officials who should engage the tobacco companies may be compromised thereby defeating the effort of government.
The tobacco industry is a big mafia made up of rich multinational operators with the capacity to fight back against perceived blackmail of their products using all manner of tactics to achieve their aim. This resistance poses a serious challenge against governments and the anti tobacco campaign, which are nevertheless urged to resist the antics of the tobacco companies. In the words of Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, “national leaders should resist these tactics and use the full force of the Convention to protect the hard-won gains to safeguard people’s health from the scourge of tobacco”.
It is worrisome that multinational tobacco companies that were finding it increasingly difficult to operate in the developed world are relocating to Africa and other developing regions of the world, cashing in on the apparently weak and corrupt governments, and the good market prospects they found in the teeming youthful population, which are obvious targets.
In Nigeria, the big tobacco manufacturers are mounting resistance against any move to discourage the smoking habit. One such company, the other day, rejected the accusations of “industry interference” in public health policy making, as charged by WHO and anti-tobacco campaigners promoting the “World No Tobacco Day”. It has consistently defended what it perceives as “its right to engage transparently on issues affecting its legitimate business selling a legal, highly regulated product that mainly adults choose to use”. Surely this resistance is tantamount to waging a silent war on the citizenry.
There is need for more public enlightenment on the dangers of tobacco smoking. Government should use media adverts, radio and TV jingles, as well as bill boards to discourage people from smoking. People should be told that nicotine is a poison and its addiction is dangerous to health and could lead to early death. They should be educated that the life style portrayed in tobacco adverts is false and leads to no benefits.
Finally, government should curb the activities of the tobacco companies. No responsible government would sit back and allow the unrestrained production and sale of products that are injurious to the populace. The Federal Government should resist the flooding of the Nigerian market with tobacco products that were banned in other countries.