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TMCNet:  'For This Yuletide Season, Ignore Tobacco Use'

[December 31, 2013]

'For This Yuletide Season, Ignore Tobacco Use'

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The yuletide season is a period of indulgences, especially for the younger generation and for this reason tobacco control activists warn on the consequences even as they crave for legislative platform to dissuade potential users and marketers, Godwin Haruna writes The yuletide season is a period of parties, carnivals, and cultural shows, among the many social events usually slated for the end of the year. At such events indulgences run high among participants and onlookers. Tobacco use is one of them and since its indulgence is often traced to many health complications, tobacco control activists in Nigeria warn revellers to beware.


Speaking on the temptation to use tobacco at any point in time, Media Officer of Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), Mr. Philip Jakpor advises the youths to watch before they take the plunge. "This is one indulgence that has the potential to complicate your health condition as you pursue your goals in life. Therefore, ignore those calls and invitations to use tobacco not only at this time but also every day of your life. Spread this message to your friends and loved ones as you meet at social events at this time," Jakpor told THISDAY.

Also speaking on the issue recently, Director of Corporate Accountability Campaigns, ERA/FoEN, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi said the group and its allies would not rest on its oars until an effective and comprehensive tobacco control law is in place in Nigeria. Oluwafemi advised the general population not to indulge in tobacco use because of the health hazards such indulgences portend. He said the short-term satisfaction derived from tobacco use, if any, is so temporal that no one should put his/her life at risk on the long run.

"In going over the issues, we need not over-flog the fact that as more and more Nigerians come down with smoking-related illnesses, the average citizen of our country is more informed about the depth of the tobacco burden we have in our hands. We cannot but agree with the World Health Organisation (WHO) that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally. Tobacco is responsible for the deaths of close to six million deaths every year. The WHO further paints a more gloomy picture of the future as it estimates that judging by current trends, by the year 2020, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people every year, with four or five of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria," Oluwafemi posited.

He said since 2001, the British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) declared a full-scale war on public health in Nigeria with the inauguration of its $150 million factory in Ibadan. He added that the company has intensified its visibility carefully designed as corporate social responsibility to make its products more generally acceptable. "BAT has moved a niche beyond merely organising the yearly façade in Iseyin, Oyo State, it calls Farmers Day, to full ingratiation with public officials as a ploy to thwart legislations that will regulate tobacco manufacturing, distribution and marketing," he alleged further.

He described the visit of BAT Managing Director, Keith Gretton to the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola as the height of attempts to pull wool over the faces of Nigerians and particularly Lagos residents, who are yet to get over BAT's activities that run counter to public health policies such as recent secret smoking parties that it organised across the state to woo underage youths to the smoking habit. He advised the youths to shun such events that may put their health status in danger.

He recalled that ERA/FoEN and CISLAC as well as other anti-tobacco groups were quick to criticise BAT's attempt to engage the state in an unholy romance. He revealed that its investigations that the company was actually making plans to donate Hilux jeeps to the Lagos Security Trust Fund as a contrived strategy of interfering in a proposed law to prohibit smoking in public places in Lagos.

Speaking further, he said: "In 2007 and 2008, the company deployed similar tactics when it mounted a sustained media campaign to tell Nigerians about the huge revenue it was paying into Nigeria's coffers, obviously to avoid being slammed with higher taxes. At that time it also came up with the same jeeps donation strategy in a well-publicized event in which the brand new vehicles were donated to the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to allegedly combat illicit trade and smuggling." Oluwafemi unequivocally stated that only the passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill it its undiluted form would stem the industry's strategies to market its products in the country. He added that the ongoing publicity blitz of the firm was in breach of Article 13 and Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty that Nigeria signed in 2004 and ratified in 2005.

Article 13 of the FCTC requires Parties among others, to "undertake a comprehensive ban or, in the case of a Party that is not in a position to undertake a comprehensive ban due to its constitution or constitutional principles, restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship on radio, television, print media and, as appropriate, other media, such as the internet, within a period of five years;" It also requires: "the prohibition, or in the case of a Party that is not in a position to prohibit due to its constitution or constitutional principles restrict, tobacco sponsorship of international events, activities and/or participants therein".

According to Oluwafemi, Article 5.3 of the FCTC states that "In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law." He stated that principle 1 of the adopted guidelines for the implementation of this Article also states clearly that: "There is fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry's interests and public health policy interest." Advising all levels of governments to be weary of tobacco money, he advocated legislations outlawing all forms of tobacco CSR to save our youths from the allure that they offer. "Nigeria will not be the first country to ban tobacco industry so-called CSR. Ukraine recently passed one of the strongest tobacco advertising bans in Europe, including all forms of sponsorships and so-called 'CSR', which the WHO recognises as thinly veiled marketing.

"In the light of all these observed tactics of the tobacco industry in Nigeria and beyond, we are again using this medium to demand that the Senate, House of Representatives and all genuinely interested groups in support of public health work collaboratively to fast-track work on the National Tobacco Control Bill.

Oluwafemi commended the United States-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for its efforts to build the capacity of the Nigerian media to report on tobacco control from an informed perspective and improving the public's awareness on tobacco control and its related issues.

Also speaking to THISDAY on the issue, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani cautioned the youths against tobacco use and other vices that have the potential of truncating their future goals. Rafsanjani urged governments accepting tobacco industry's Greek gifts clothed in CSR garbs to have a rethink and consider the long-term harm the products would cause the public.

He appealed to journalists to try as much as possible to always expose the dangers of tobacco smoking to the public because by so doing, a lot of lives would be saved. He added that BAT has injected millions of naira into advertorials to deceive Nigerians that the company has contributed immensely to the growth of the economy as well as created employment for the teeming youths.

Mrs. Hilda Ochefu of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids called on the media to always report the effects of tobacco intake on the society. Ochefu added that at festive seasons media reports should be tailored towards educating parents on the dangers of exposing their kids to the destruction that goes with tobacco use.

Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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