Implementing tobacco control laws in Nigeria is a necessity

Ekwi Ajide, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
Despite being a major risk factor for many non-communicable and other diseases tobacco use has been on the rise in Nigeria. Also, as tobacco consumption is socially accepted in the country, it makes matters worse.

According to a 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 5.6% (4.7 million) Nigerian adults aged 15 years or older currently use tobacco products (10.0% of men and 1.1% of women). Furthermore, 3.7% (3.1 million) Nigerians currently smoke tobacco and 2.9% (2.4 million) are daily smokers. A nationally representative survey conducted among in-school 13–15 years old Nigerian adolescents found that the prevalence of smoking experimentation ranged from 3.6% to 16.2%.

More than 60% of males aged 20 to 34 years, who ever smoked, did so daily before reaching the age of 20 years while 55.3% of current daily tobacco users did so within 30 minutes of waking-up. Exposure to second-hand smoke was reported to be highest among those who visited restaurants and was estimated to be 29.3% of 6.4 million adults. These data indicate high tobacco consumption and may contribute to the incidence and deaths from non-communicable diseases.

In 2012, 102,100 new cases of cancer were reported in Nigeria with prostate and liver cancers accounting for over half of the new cases which were associated with tobacco use while a total of 792,600 deaths from NCDs were reported during the same period.

It is in recognition of these problems which may have significant consequences on the world’s socioeconomic development that the World Health Organization spearheaded efforts aimed at reducing tobacco use and NCD prevention in conjunction with global tobacco control which culminated in the development of the 2005 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). an international treaty,  which  imposes  obligations on the signatory governments to protect citizens from tobacco and tobacco products-related harm for the promotion and protection of public health.

For a country like Nigeria, where high rates of tuberculosis often go hand in hand with HIV infections, smoking further exacerbates the health risks. No wonder WHO chose the theme of World No Tobacco Day 2019 as "tobacco and lung health”, as lung diseases including tuberculosis account for 40 %of all tobacco-related deaths.

Nigeria is one of those 168 countries ( and one of the 44 African nations) that have signed as well as ratified the WHO FCTC. But, the Convention, which Nigeria signed on 28 June 2004 and ratified on 20 October 2005, with the aim of ensuring that tobacco use is reduced does not seem to have brought about desired changes in tobacco use in the country. It has remained one of the world’s greatest challenges with tobacco use. This could be because multinational tobacco firms seek new markets abroad as their sales evaporate in the West, with more and more smokers quitting there.

However, the good news is that just a few days ago, the Nigerian Ministry of Health announced that it will finally enact strict tobacco control provisions that have been tabled for four years. The country’s National Assembly had earlier ratified the 2015 National Tobacco Control Act provisions in response to anti-tobacco activists who pressured the government to finally implement them. Some 48 civil society groups appealed to Nigerian legislators to push the provisions through and this was finally achieved.

The Health Ministry is “currently piloting tobacco control activities across the country,” said health secretary, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi. He asked Nigerians to follow the new rules and regulations, which include a ban on advertising tobacco products and the creation of smoke-free zones across the country. According to him, “at least 16,100 Nigerians die of illnesses associated with tobacco use and globally, at least 1,700,000 people die of lung cancer every year,” insisting that “every Nigerian should have the right to breathe tobacco-free air.”

The Nigerian measures include licensing requirements for people or businesses that sell tobacco products, and graphic health warnings on packages to communicate the risks associated with tobacco use. Dr. Clement Peter, who is the lead WHO officer in Nigeria, applauded the legislative decision and thanked the government for moving forward on tobacco prevention. “Tobacco has claimed the lives of thousands of both youth and adults, and continues to pose serious health risks to persons exposed to tobacco smoke,” he said. “Let us promote non-smoking as a social norm by ensuring smoke-free environments.”

The African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), which monitors developments in pursuit of a tobacco-free continent, was also full of praises for Nigeria’s progress, thanking House Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Senate President Bukola Saraki for their leadership which had saved millions of Nigerians from the harms of tobacco use,” the Togo-based organization said.

With these encomiums pouring in, it becomes imperative that all hands must be on deck to ensure that the laws are implemented to the later especially in limiting secondhand smoke exposure, especially in restaurants, as well as promoting support for enforcing smoke-free regulations in public places. Nigeria government also needs to address the problem of tobacco control which is massively underfunded and not leave it for donor agencies alone. We have to choose life, not tobacco. We cannot let tobacco break our heart or take our breath away. And together we can!

Ekwi Ajide, Citizen News Service - CNS
June 5, 2019