In the second quarter of 2022 the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) said it had received and censored a total of 553 movies produced by the Nigerian film industry. The report showed a slight increase in the number of movies produced from 541 in the first quarter to 553 in the second quarter of the year. According to the agency the steady increase in output was an indication of the increased contribution of the film industry to economic growth in terms of direct and indirect jobs in the entire value chain of filmmaking.
The Nigerian movie industry, also known as Nollywood, is one of the largest film industries in the world and the largest in Africa. It is estimated to be worth around $5.2 billion and produces over 2,600 movies annually. The industry has grown significantly in recent years and is now recognised globally for its impact on African cinema and the entertainment industry.
Films have always been an integral part of human culture and society. They provide a platform for storytelling and have the power to communicate important messages about culture, morality, and societal values. Through films, people can share their experiences, beliefs, and ideas with a wider audience, making them a powerful tool for shaping public perception and driving social change.
It is in this light that the growing depiction of negative western culture and practices alien to our culture must be of utmost priority in the attempts by the NFVCB to sanitise the content of films that hit the screens in the country. One of the most brazen attempts to foist an alien albeit dangerous culture on us is the promotion of smoking in movies.
Smoking in movies can have a negative impact on public health and reinforce negative societal values. The portrayal of smoking in movies can normalise tobacco use, and create a false sense that smoking is an acceptable behaviour. This can be especially harmful to young people, who are more likely to be influenced by media depictions of smoking. This type of portrayal can be highly influential, especially for young people who are still forming their views on smoking and its social implications.
Research has shown that young people who are exposed to on-screen smoking are more likely to start smoking than those who do not see smoking in movies. This can have serious health implications, such as increased rates of lung cancer, heart disease, etc. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.
The NFVCB decision to censor films depicting money rituals is highly commendable and shows the power of the agency to make positive interventions in the movies consumed by Nigerians. The agency must delay no further in extending its big stick also to movies that glamourise smoking. As a public health issue, smoking is a leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, and exposure to on-screen smoking has been linked to an increase in smoking among young people. The portrayal of smoking in movies can create a false sense that smoking is an acceptable and even desirable behaviour, reinforcing negative societal values and normalising this harmful behaviour.
A 2019 survey conducted by a non-governmental organisation, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), on smoking paraphernalia in Nigerian movies revealed an alarming trend. The research randomly screened movies watched by the youth in the three major movie hubs – Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo, and found that 36 of the selected films had an excessive number of smoking scenes that glamourise tobacco smoking. The survey found that smoking was portrayed as a widespread, socially acceptable, desirable, and even classy behaviour in these movies.
Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the need to checkmate the film industry in the portrayal of smoking in movies. Dr. Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s former Director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs), in 2016 said: “With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions.”
The body recommends that concrete steps, including rating films with tobacco scenes and displaying tobacco warnings before films with tobacco, can stop children around the world from being introduced to tobacco products and subsequent tobacco-related addiction, disability, and death.
The WHO’s recommendation aligns with Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act of 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations of 2019 which set out a clear framework for prohibiting tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships (TAPS) in the entertainment industry. Section 12 (1) of the Act provides a comprehensive ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion, making it illegal for anyone to promote or advertise tobacco or tobacco products in any form.
To provide clarity on what constitutes prohibited advertising and promotion, the First Schedule of the Act outlines examples of prohibited activities, including product placement and the inclusion of tobacco trademarks in the context of communication in return for payment or other consideration. This provision applies to all forms of media, including movies and entertainment.
By enacting these regulations, the Nigerian government has taken a significant step in protecting public health by limiting the promotion of tobacco and tobacco products in the entertainment industry. The provisions serve to curb the influence of the tobacco industry on the youth and promote a healthier and more positive future for society. The poor enforcement of the policy should be a matter of great and grave concern to all. Smoking in movies has a profound impact on the way young people perceive smoking, making them more susceptible to taking up the habit.
While the National Tobacco Control Act of 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations of 2019 contain provisions prohibiting tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships in movies and entertainment, there is still much work to be done in terms of its enforcement. It is imperative that practitioners, stakeholders, and other key players in the Nigerian movie industry take the necessary steps towards creating a Smokefree Nollywood and movies that uphold the values of our culture.
Practitioners can work towards incorporating messages about the dangers of smoking into film storylines and by portraying non-smoking behaviours as the norm. By doing so, we can ensure that the movie industry does not promote or glamorize smoking and protect our youth from the harmful effects of on-screen smoking. The health and well-being of our society depend on it.
By Anjola Fatuase, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA)