by Bankole Oluwafemi
Rehashing the ill effects occasioned by tobacco use is superfluous at this point. It is a real, present and growing menace that must be met head on and responsibly by the ones at the helm of policy.
In the developed world, overwhelming scientific consensus on the deleterious effects of tobacco smoke, coupled with with sobering statistics, have led to increased public awareness of the dangers occasioned by direct and second hand smoke.
While the tobacco industry has always used its significant economic, political and media reach to protect its vested interest in the continued practice of smoking, these efforts have been met with equally energetic lobbying from tobacco control advocates. The result has been increasingly stringent legislation regulating the sale, marketing and consumption of tobacco in many countries around the world.
It could prove to be a pyrrhic victory.
Losing the upper hand in the tobacco tussle in the developed world has led to the tobacco industry to turn its sights afield, toward less hostile business environments. They have commissioned research that has identified developing countries as the next lucrative, and high growth market opportunities.
Nigeria sits high atop the list of markets earmarked for the next phase of the global tobacco expansion campaign.
This is a crisis in the making. It is only logical that the tobacco industry should cast its eye of Sauron on middle to low-income economies with less educated populaces and regulatory frameworks that range from thin to none. No doubt, they will do all they can to exploit those realities to maximum advantage, and thereby set a whole new stage for an epidemic of tobacco-related death and disease.
In fact, it’s already begun. In 2012, The first Global Adult Tobacco Use survey to be conducted in Nigeria found that 5.6% (4.7 million) Nigerian adults aged 15 years or older currently use tobacco products, and smoke an average of 8 cigarettes per day. More than 60% of 20 to 34 year old male smokers picked up the habit before they turned 20. More than half of the daily tobacco users light up within 30 minutes of waking up.
For a society that traditionally disapproves of smoking, tobacco is finding slow but sure inroads that could lead to damaging long term consequences.
The situation calls for swift and decisive policy intervention. Which is something of an oxymoron, since changing policy is anything but swift. The current regulatory framework for tobacco control in Nigeria is more than two decades old — the Tobacco Smoking (Control) Decree 20, 1990, which was later made into an Act in 2001.
The groundwork for a comprehensive tobacco control was laid as far back as in 2005, when Nigeria became a party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The treaty obligates the signing countries to do the following –
– Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies
– Protect people from tobacco smoke
– Offer help to quit tobacco use
– Warn about the dangers of tobacco
– Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship
– Raise taxes on tobacco
But there has been delay in consolidating the progress. Tobacco control advocacy groups in Nigeria have been pushing for legislation that domesticates these conventions, giving them legal impetus locally. Two bills are currently undergoing the legislative review process. The information available suggests that while the bill makes it through the legislative houses with minimum fuss, it keeps getting stymied at the executive stage of the process.
There are no guarantees that this will not occur once again, which is why the sponsoring organizations, activists and concerned citizens cannot afford to keep silent. Not until real, effectual and comprehensive tobacco control policies are enacted into law.
What does the country stand to gain from comprehensive tobacco control policies? The same as other countries that have implemented similar measures. Effective regulation of tobacco substances reduces the supply and consumption of tobacco which in turn will reduce the likelihood that children and adolescents (who make up the larger part of Nigeria’s population) will pick up the habit, result in a drop in tobacco-related deaths, make it easier for people who want to quit to do so and ensure that a wholesome environment conducive to the continued health and well being of Nigerians is maintained.
Rehashing the ill effects occasioned by tobacco use is superfluous at this point. It is a real, present and growing menace that must be met head on and responsibly by the ones at the helm of policy. A country’s citizens count on their leaders to do not only what’s best for them, but also their duty. Where tobacco is concerned, that duty is clear. Uncompromising policy is the only way forward.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.