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The World Health Organisation (WHO) set aside May 31 of every year as a day to mark World No Tobacco Day. On this day attention of the world and governments is drawn to the continuous damage that the consumption of tobacco has wreaks on the global populace, especially those in low- and middle-income countries.

tobacco smoking
Tobacco smoking

The world body has through this day brought attention to the fact that tobacco companies around the world continue to devise means to beat the ban on promotion and advertisement of their products.

Despite the ban of tobacco advertising in the media, the companies through the backdoor flout these rules in the guise of engaging in corporate social responsibility activities to open advertisement of their products online, which is more dangerous because the major users of the online and social media are youths. So, they target youths and lure them to patronize their products despite the ban!

In marking the World No Tobacco Day 2021, the WHO under the theme #Commit to Quit, called on governments, medical professionals and groups to emphasise the need to help to make smokers quit the habit.

Speaking at an event to mark the day in Abuja on May 31, 2021, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said that the Nigerian government was concerned about the health of smokers because it exposes them more the dangers of Covid-19, which is presently ravaging the world. According to him, researchers have proved that tobacco users and those with underlying non-communicable diseases were at higher risks of severe COVID-19, adding that smokers who quit would have improved health status.

The minister further disclosed the readiness of the federal government to expand and strengthen the war against tobacco consumption in the country. He revealed that part of these strategies was to make tobacco and all its products expensive, promote awareness among the citizenry and upscale the campaign and access to tobacco cessation services.

Ehanire added, “The tobacco industry prefers more smokers and encourages long term smoking and has even introduced electronic smoking devices, falsely claimed to be less harmful than the conventional cigarettes.”

This is the message that concerned parties have been hammering on over the years and calling on government to act to save the society, especially our youths from the evils of tobacco addiction. According to a WHO research, in 2016 29% of deaths in Nigeria were traceable to non-communicable diseases, which are mainly linked to tobacco consumption and drinking. It is hope that with this revelation and the words of the minister of health the federal government would now be more serious in tackling this issue head on.

On the part of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), the government must walk the talk.

Speaking at an event to mark the World No Tobacco Day in Lagos, the Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, echoed the observations of the health minister and corroborated the WHO research that says smokers are more liable to dangers of Covid-19, observe that Nigeria must take the battle more seriously.

Oluwafemi said: “For Nigeria, the WNTD2021 presents an opportunity to reflect on our peculiar situation with regards to tobacco control. In as much as we join the global call encouraging smokers to quit, we must equally highlight the fact that the environment required to make this happen in Nigeria has not been created. A disturbing reality is the fact that the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 that can make that environment a reality are yet to be enforced.”

He lamented that government has continuously failed to enforce the national tobacco regulations. He observed that the delay in the enforcement of the Act and the Regulation has created s loopholes which the tobacco industry is exploiting. He regretted that this has widened the tobacco industry’s business interests, thus making them target kids as replacement smokers through their flagrant flouting of the ban on tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorships in the entertainment and media sectors.

He pointed out that the glamorisation of smoking in movies and product placement have assumed worrying proportions as evidenced in the production of movies in indigenous languages with a high prevalence of unnecessary smoking scenes. Backing up his observations, Oluwafemi said a study by WHO experts have confirmed that one-third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs because of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships, which are easily obtainable online since they have unrestricted access to the materials online.

Why Things Are Failing

In picking holes in the legislation and its implementation, Oluwafemi said that what was absent in “Nigeria’s tobacco control efforts is the lack of sustainable funding, which was recommended in Part 3, Section 8 (1) of the NTC Act 2015.”

He observed that this lack of funding has made Ministries and Departments of Government vulnerable and open to accepting funding and sponsorships for their activities from the tobacco industry and their proxies. This is a huge setback to the campaign against tobacco in the country.

He, however, reminded the government that its adoption of the guidelines of Article 14 of the WHO Framework for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2010, mandates it to promote cessation of tobacco use by incorporating tobacco cessation advice into primary health-care services. This, CAPPA believes must go together with support initiatives such as easily accessible quit lines and free or low-cost medication in essential drug list.

What the Govt and Health Professionals Must Do

To help the country curb the slide into a tobacco epidemy, CAPPA suggests that the government must exploit all the available options to protect the next generation of its citizens from taking up nicotine addiction and assist current smokers to quit. It went further to suggest how to achieve this.

According to the non-governmental organisation, the government should integrate smoking cessation, awareness, and counselling into National Healthcare delivery systems; comprehensively enforce the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 without delay as well as enforce a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships.

It also called for the enforcement of graphic health warnings on tobacco packs, enforcement of the ban of the sale of tobacco products to underage and the increase of taxes on tobacco products to make them less affordable; as well as operationalise the Tobacco Control Fund.

Presenting the result of a research carried out by Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf Director, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU)’s Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) South Africa and Dr. Francis Fagbule, a Dentist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Dr. Fagbule said, “Smoking cessation has major health benefits for women and men of all ages, regardless of their health status. The benefits are immediate (from minutes after the last cigarette), and long-lasting (accrue over 20 years). They include a reduction in the risk for lung cancer and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung disease and, with possibly the most recent benefit, being reduced risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death from COVID-19.”

The researchers affirmed that results show that by committing to quit, smokers will not only reap health benefits, but there are also financial benefits such as increased savings on money spent on purchase of cigarettes because people of low socio-economic status spend significantly more on cigarettes thus deepening their poverty level.

How Health Professionals Can Offer Help

Prof Ayo-Yusuf and Dr Fagbule in their study however find out that health professionals are not doing enough to assist smokers in the efforts to quit as outlined in the guidelines on the role of healthcare professionals (HCPs).

According to them, a recent secondary analysis of the 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted across Nigeria found that only one in four, predominantly male smokers, were offered quit advice by a healthcare practitioner despite the fact those male smokers advised to quit were at least five times more likely to commit to quitting.

They therefore appealed to the government and the public to help prevent the next generation from taking up nicotine addiction and assist current smokers who attempt to succeed in quitting by supporting the urgent full implementation and enforcement of The National Tobacco Control Act, 2015.

They said from their findings health professionals have the greatest potential of any group in society to promote the reduction of tobacco use because studies have shown that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco which include lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. This tide can be overturned with adequate brief advice from health professionals.

To achieve the 2021 this year’s theme: Commit to Quit, all hands must be on deck to save the lungs of the growing and coming generation from the antics of the tobacco industry.

By Esiene MacArthur

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