A frightening spate of butchery in Nigeria linked to ritual killings has ignited a fierce national debate on the role of Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, in shaping the moral character of society. As the country grapples with the startling new normal of gore, one almost-unanimous country-wide perspective that has dominated the discourse is how the local film industry has contributed to the unhealthy development.
While filmmakers getting flak for the disturbing trend have rationally counterargued that blaming the movie industry is a reductionist logic, what cannot be denied is the active role of movies in shaping mass consciousness, and that is why for many, the entertainment industry is at least partially to blame for its glamourous portrayal of anti-social behaviours.
Like the scourge of ritual killings, the worrying plague of tobacco prevalence among youths in Nigeria continues to grab the headlines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says tobacco accounts for more than 8.7 million deaths that cost the global economy $1.4 trillion annually. There are around 1.1 billion smokers worldwide and about 80% of them live in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria where more than two-thirds of these smoking-related deaths occur.
According to research conducted by the Centre for the Study of Economies of Africa (CSEA), nearly 30,000 deaths that occur every year in Nigeria are connected to tobacco smoking. Of greater concern is the brewing tobacco epidemic among children and adolescents in Nigeria.
While data on tobacco use by youths in Nigeria is quite limited because of low surveillance systems, existing literature on tobacco use in Nigerian youth reveals that a vast majority of young adult smokers begin using tobacco products well before the age of 18 years with prevalence rates of smoking ranging from 0.2% to 32.5%. It is believed that a growing number of Nigerian children aged between 10 and 14 years smoke cigarettes each day.
Media and smoking initiation among youths
Research shared by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in 2019 flags Nollywood as one of the major influences amid other contributory factors such as the poor implementation of provisions contained in Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act (NTC, 2015) and other international laws, the affordability of cigarettes for minors and the location of sales point of tobacco around residential and school areas.
A variety of movie content analysis undertaken by CAPPA exposed how the ‘’tobacco industry in Nigeria exploits movies and music videos to give misleading positive impressions of tobacco use’’ which invariably fuels the uptick in adolescent and juvenile smoking rates. Youths in Nigeria are often initiated into using tobacco products through advertising and subliminal promotion of smoking scenes in movies, music videos, and product placements. This is despite the provisions contained in the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015 that prohibit tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship in movies and entertainment, with some exceptions.
Given the central role of movies in Nigerian culture, entertainment and audio-visual materials have a profound impact on the concept of self-awareness in adolescents and young adults. Since they are usually impressionable, if young persons are bombarded with a lot of smoking in movies, they are bound to think of it as cool and normal – rather than something that destroys the quality of life of users.
The road ahead for Nollywood
In view of the unarguable impact of movies on the disposition of viewers, especially children, and young adults, the film industry in Nigeria must begin to question itself on how it contributes to the normalisation of tobacco use among young persons in Nigeria. Whether through intentional education of viewers, applying standard rating systems to movies with tobacco depiction, or conscious shifts in the content it churns out, Nollywood must begin to de-romanticise, de-glamourise, and devalue tobacco use onscreen.
A step in the right direction is the milestone discourse of a #SmokeFreeNollywood campaign championed by CAPPA in collaboration with notable practitioners in Nollywood as a way forward in implementing the provisions of Nigeria’s national policy on tobacco control as it applies to the media sector.
In committing to end smoking in Nollywood, movie practitioners must also take a step back to review their relationships with big tobacco manufacturers. Thomas Adedayo, Executive Director of the National Film and Video Censors Board, recently said that ‘‘the tobacco industry uses a sophisticated marketing mix to promote smoking on set and in the industry.’’
They deliberately target entertainment stakeholders and enlist them to glamourise smoking in movies either through financial inducement, misinformation, or other subtle approaches. It would make sense if players in Nollywood shun relationships with the tobacco industry that violate provisions of the Nigerian law on the depiction of smoking in movies.
The National Tobacco Control Act 2015 together with the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 expressly prohibit (except for scenes tied to the depiction of journalistic, historical, social, or political fact) any form of commercial communication, recommendation, or action of tobacco use in movies that has the likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.
The provisions of the legislation further require that text-health warnings be displayed in any depiction of tobacco products or tobacco use that falls under exceptions highlighted by the law.
Producers and film studios in Nigeria can adopt in-house policies on the smoke content of movies they must project and, certify no payoffs tags that inform the public that no payments were received by producers or studios for depicting tobacco use in movies. Furthermore, the NFVCB must strive to adopt tough ratings such as the ‘‘R rating’’ to movies depicting tobacco use.
By taking these small steps, film practitioners can truly achieve a #SmokeFreeNollywood and redefine the national narrative on the role of Nollywood in shaping the moral development and social consciousness of the nation.
By Zikora Ibeh
Ibeh works on Policy and Research at the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA)