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Big tobacco’s tiny targets and Africa’s challenge

Head, Media and Campaigns, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Philip Jakpor (left); Coordinator, Nigeria Tobacco Control Research Group (NTCRG), Dr. Akindele Adebiyi and others during the presentation of Big Tobacco Tiny Targets report to schools in Ibadan


It was quite a revelation recently at the St. Paul’s Anglican Church Hall in Yemetu, Ibadan, Oyo State, when school children, who were asked what they wanted to become in life started reeling out lofty dreams for their future.

Akin Olayinka said he wanted to become a lecturer in nuclear physics while Ronke Adeyinka has a vision of becoming a nurse just as Badmus Phillip has a vision to become a central bank chief who would achieve a parallel exchange rate for the Naira and the Dollar, among others.

Lofty as these dreams seem, that desired future is under serious attack by big tobacco companies who are doing everything possible to replace Africa’s dying generation of old smokers by initiating young school children into smoking.

A report by the Nigerian Tobacco Control Research Group (NTCRG) and the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), in collaboration with the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), have indicted big tobacco companies for targeting children for the sale of tobacco products.

The report titled: Big Tobacco Tiny Targets, which has been launched in Abuja and Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, made scary revelations on how big tobacco companies like Phillip Morris and British America Tobacco Company of Nigeria (BATN) are making every effort to woo the younger generation of Nigerians and Africans into the deadly habit of smoking.

Presenting the report to hundreds of students from selected secondary schools in Ibadan, Coordinator of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Research Group, Department of Community Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Dr. Akindele Adebiyi, said big tobacco companies were bent on targeting Africa’s younger generation with their lethal products.

“Tobacco use is a major preventable cause of death in the world and it is projected that 8 million deaths annually will result from tobacco use by the year 2030. Most of the deaths will occur in low-middle-income countries.

“Annually, the tobacco epidemic is sustained by the addition of many youths to the population of smokers. Four in five adult smokers started smoking before 18 years of age… Such young age of initiation to tobacco use is a strong predictor of prolonged use.

“In Nigeria, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted in 2008 documented that 12 per cent of students between ages 13 and 15 years had never smoked cigarettes while over 15 per cent currently use any tobacco product,” the report stated.

It, however, noted that one of the strategies used by the tobacco companies is through visual appeal methods such as placement of tobacco products on counters, stores and kiosks frequented by kids.The big tobacco companies also deliberately cite kiosks that boldly display tobacco products within the vicinity of schools, which increases exposure of minors to tobacco products. These exposures eventually result in tobacco experimentation and use by the kids.

Checks also revealed that apart from selling cigarettes close to schools, another dangerous dimension is the making and marketing of tobacco in flavoured menthol, strawberry and even shisha (liquid cigarettes), which they place close to sweets, a strong point of attraction for children.

The report disclosed that there were strong evidences of sale of tobacco products, including cigarettes, within 100m of school environments across selected cities in Nigeria, as well as evidences linking this practice to BATN and other tobacco holding companies in the country.It added that over 30 distributing companies currently operate in Nigeria; making it more expedient to act quickly.

“In some instances, tobacco products were displayed for sale at school gates, an act which runs contrary to the provisions of the first schedule of the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015, which prohibits the sale, supply, placement and display of tobacco products at educational establishments,” it stated.

The report cited specific examples from Lagos, Nasarawa, Enugu, Kaduna and Oyo states visual evidences.It urged the Federal Government to take action and made specific recommendations including the need for urgent passage of the regulations guiding implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 by the National Assembly and Proactive prohibition of placement of tobacco products within 100m of any educational institution by the federal, state and local education authorities.

It demanded the enforcement of the comprehensive prohibition of tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), while the National Assembly should enhance PoS and product displays, which should urgently approve the regulations guiding the implementation of the tobacco control law.

The report also recommended the setting up of a Framework for monitoring the implementation of the ban on single sticks and cigarettes packs with less than 20 sticks as detailed in the NTC Act 2015, which should be urgently instituted and widely made known to all tobacco control stakeholders and government ministries, divisions and agencies.

At the public presentation in Ibadan, ERA/FoEN’s Head of Media and Campaigns, Phillip Jakpor, Communication Manager of ATCA, Sessou Leonce Dieudonne, representative of the Provost of College of Health Sciences, University of Ibadan, Dr. Sade Akinsete, all agreed that big tobacco companies were out to induct African children into their infamous hall of the deadly habit of smoking.

They called on students, parents and guardians to caution their wards against smoking and any form of tobacco use, which constitute grave dangers to their health and the future they dream about.

Speaking earlier at the presentation in Abuja, Hilda Ochefu of the CTFK said the tobacco industry deliberately targets kids as replacement smokers for the generation of smokers who are either very sick due to tobacco use, are passing away or already dead.

She said the report captured the strategy of the tobacco industry to entice and lure kids to get addicted to smoking hence the need for immediate enforcement of provisions of the NTC Act announced by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, which included the ban on single stick sale of cigarettes and ban on smoking in public places.

Giving a summary of the report, Adebiyi said the survey involved 221 schools including 74 in Oyo, 65 in Kaduna, 38 in Enugu, 26 in Nasarawa and 18 in Lagos states where the situation of point of sale (PoS) and other tobacco inducements were very prevalent.

He explained that the report would guide government in taking concrete steps to save the young generation of kids that the tobacco industry wants to addict from embarking on the dangerous experimentation of cigarettes.

Participants at the public presentation of the report included representatives of the Federal Ministries of Health, Education and the Ministry of Labour and Employment, anti-tobacco groups, schools and officers of state universal basic education boards (SUBEB), among others.

“We further advocate concrete actions and continued watchfulness of major stakeholders like parents, education authorities, teachers, women groups, professional groups and the media on the grave harm of getting children hooked on tobacco would cause.

This report is a wake up call to all stakeholders, including ministries, divisions and agencies to expedite action on all processes related to the quick adoption and passage of regulations needed for the full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015,” the report added.Anything short of this, the anti-tobacco advocates argue, would be a double tragedy and a huge threat to the future of the African kids.

In this article:
Akin OlayinkaRonke Adeyinka


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