Underage smoking and menace of flavoured cigarettes

cigarettesRight in our face has emerged a new threat, which takes advantage of subterfuge and deception; presenting an opportunity for havoc to be wrecked which is not seen for what it is because it is not even seen.

How else can one describe a situation where a nation’s young and vulnerable are lured into making choices because those who lead them into those potentially dangerous choices make it easy for them to evade detection?

That is the danger posed by the new flavoured cigarette brands, which are now being introduced illegally into the Nigerian market. The initiation of youths into smoking is now oiled by a sinister innovation: flavoured brands specifically designed to appeal to the young. These tobacco products are manufactured with sweet fruity flavours which appeal to children and completely mask the smell of tobacco, allowing your ward to smoke anywhere out of sight with confidence, even within the home, without fear of being exposed by the odour. The influx, which began slowly about two years ago, is snowballing into a full-blown, smuggling-industry driven national threat.

On Thursday, February 26, 2015, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria had to publish a full page Consumer Alert notice on Page 63 of The Guardian where it warned that the Organisation “has uncovered the marketing, distribution and sale of certain brands of Oris Slims Strawberry, Oris Slims Double Apple, Nakhla Tobacco (Peach, Mint And Apple Flavours) Mizo Grape Water Pipe Tobacco, Lamar Strawberry Super Slims And Business Club Strawberry, Apple And Cherry Flavoured Cigarettes in the Nigerian market. “

The alert went on to further say that “these brands of cigarettes are not allowed to be manufactured or imported into Nigeria by the Nigeria Industrial Standard for Tobacco products-cigarettes, as it could initiate and induce children into smoking. In addition, these products were not registered nor did they pass through SONCAP process prior to entry into the Nigerian market.”

While Part VI, Section 15(1) of the National Tobacco Control Act clearly stipulates that “No person below the age of eighteen years (18 years) shall sell or be sold tobacco products”, unscrupulous elements have devised this means of not only furnishing such young persons with tobacco products, but more importantly, packaging it in ways that avoid detection, thereby protecting the source and creating a market of repeat under-age consumers.

The second part of that subsection in the Act clearly states that “It shall be unlawful for a parent, legal guardian or other person acting in place of a parent or legal guardian or person who is responsible for the care and welfare of a minor under the age of 18 years to knowingly allow that minor to possess any cigarettes made of tobacco or of any other substance which can be smoked, any cigarette paper or tobacco in any form, including but not limited to smokeless tobacco.”

This clearly indicates that parents or guardians indeed have a legal obligation to ensure their under-age wards are kept away from smoking until they reach the legal age of consent when they can take the decision on their own. However, this obligation will prove difficult to achieve if the parent or guardian cannot tell when his/her wards smoke.

Aside from the attraction to the flavours in themselves, this strategy aids recall and repeat patronage of the selected brand. A child who for instance loves the flavour of strawberry is more likely therefore to be drawn to a cigarette that markets itself as strawberry-flavoured and the fulfillment of that appetite for that strawberry crave through that stick will have the unsuspecting kid search out that particular brand over and again.

A calculation based on data in Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) by the United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2011 showed that 90 percent of all regular smokers begin smoking at or before age 18, and hardly anybody tries their first cigarette outside of childhood.

In addition to this, according to the 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013, 4 out of 10 current high school cigar and cigarette smokers use flavoured cigars or flavoured cigarettes.
These statistics, though not local, reflect to a great extent, the reality on the ground here in Nigeria and while the low prices in the report quoted above which give them an added advantage in the market are a function of lower taxes, here in Nigeria, they are a function of tax evasion because the products are smuggled into the country.

In major markets across the country, retailers of these flavoured brands can be found. Apprehension among Nigerians about smoking – especially among groups such as children and (especially in the north) housewives – has always been high and this brings us to the pertinent questions that are begging for answers with regard to this trend.

How do these illegal products find their way through our borders and into our markets? If they are stopped at the point of entry, Nigerian parents will certainly have little less cause for worry for sure. Is it due to laxity on the part of the agencies that should secure our borders? Can Nigerians expect a different result from the Nigeria Customs Service with respect to this menace?

Calls have been made over and again about the need for greater inter-agency collaboration between relevant stakeholders in the business of enforcing our laws against smuggling such as the Nigerian Customs Service and the Nigeria Police. What levels of collaborations exist also between them and other agencies such as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) who should also be at the vanguard in ensuring that the health standards of the populace which is being compromised through the activities of smugglers are checked?

Finally, considering the potential for harm that this new trend poses, one would have expected that this is a fight that the various anti-tobacco advocacy groups in the country should have taken up long before now.

• Obaseki, a public health education specialist, wrote in from Benin



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