Tobacco: A Plant, A Smoke or a Stroke of Death?

Timothy Bamidele, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
Tobacco is a plant within the genus Nicotiana of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. While there are more than 70 species of tobacco, the chief commercial crop is N. tabacum. The more potent species N. rustica is also widely used around the world. Dried tobacco leaves are mainly smoked in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and flavored shisha tobacco.
They are also consumed as snuff, chewing tobacco and dipping tobacco. Tobacco contains the alkaloid nicotine, a stimulant. Tobacco use is a risk factor for diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs. Dr Gbola Olayiwola, a pharmacist is a respected member of the academic community in Nigeria, He lectures at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and is a Consultant for the Institute of Public Health, IPH of the same Institution. When you talk to him of tobacco or cigarettes, he is not only knowledgeable about the chemical composition of their content but also about the direct consequence of its threat.

Dr Olayiwola has lost his father and a brother to smoking, while his Dad’s case at the time of death was not diagnosed, his brother’s case was clear-- though a man, he developed breast cancer. These personal unhappy experiences have made Dr Olayiwola a strong advocate of ‘Say No To Tobacco’. “It is not only nicotine that you have in tobacco, you also have tar, which is very dangerous. I am in a good position to tell people not to smoke,” says Dr Olayiwola.

Tobacco, a global threat
With six million tobacco related deaths in a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Hence stakeholders in Nigeria want intensified efforts that will ensure full compliance of control tools of WHO to fight the tobacco epidemic.

WHO has marshaled six measures, known as MPOWER, which include Monitoring of tobacco use and prevention policies, Protection of the people from tobacco use, Offering of help to quit tobacco use, Warning about the dangers of tobacco, Enforcement of bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and Raising of taxes on tobacco.

In an interview, Dr. Oyewole Adekanye a family Physician at the Baptist Medical Centre Saki in Oyo state, explained that the damage done by tobacco is systemic both to the consumers and those around them. “Smoking is known to endanger the body, especially the respiratory system. There are two types of smokers--the active smokers and the people who are passive smokers. The active smokers are the ones who actually light a cigarette and smoke. The passive smokers are the ones who do not smoke but by circumstances, either they live together in the neighborhood or they are in the same gathering or in the public spaces where when other people are smoking they inhale the smoke and essentially they run a higher risk than the active smokers’’.

In another interview on consequences of tobacco on other respiratory diseases such as TB, the Osun state Tuberculosis Control Officer Dr Moroof Gbadamosi pointed out that anyone who smokes and is infected with TB may take longer time to get cured as smoking makes the anti TB drugs to be less effective.

Government not resting on its oars
Recently, besides other substantive laws in Nigeria and some other states of the Federation, the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu had proposed a new bill on tobacco called ‘Tobacco Control Bill 2014’, which stipulates, among other penalties, that anyone who smokes in non-smoking designated areas in the country would pay N50,000 fine or else, such people could face six months’ imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment.

A Call for Improved Awareness
However, Dr Samuel Olowookere, a researcher based in Osun state, South West of Nigeria who undertook a research on awareness and attitude to the law banning smoking in public places especially focusing on Osun State, was dismayed that though there was an enabling law banning consumption of tobacco in public, only 38% people were aware of the risks posed to the public and family health by cigarettes.

“Only 38% were aware of the law while none had seen the document. 56% felt cigarette smoking is a problem that required the law to be implemented, while only 20% agreed that the law will stop tobacco use,” he said.

He further stated that, “The radio accounted for 58%, bill boards 45% and newspapers 44% as  the major sources of awareness of the law and that the perception of risk posed to the public and family health by cigarette smoking was poor among the participants.”

Fight Against Tobacco and the Tax Option
Dr Ehsan Latif, Director-Tobacco Control, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) noted that “Increasing taxes on tobacco products is the most effective policy measure a government can take to reduce tobacco-related mortality across a population. It is also seen as an attractive measure for governments, as it increases their revenues.”

Corroborating Dr Latif’s statement, a tax expert in Osun state in charge of Government Business Tax of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr. Frederick Olumeyan lend his voice to the need for government to impose more taxes on the company that produces tobacco.

“The tax will come in form of value added tax (VAT). You know that value added tax is a consumption tax. But it is not the increase in the tax we are talking about. We are talking about company income tax—that is the company that produces tobacco products should pay more tax.”

Mr. Olumeyan described the increase in tax of tobacco as a win-win situation for the government as well as for the protection of health of the citizens as increased in taxes are likely to reduce consumption of tobacco

Timothy Bamidele, Citizen News Service - CNS
2 June 2014