Taming the tobacco monster

Yesterday, the global community marked this year’s World No-Tobacco Day. It is a day set aside not only to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption but also to rescue smokers from the deadly habit which mankind has cultivated from primordial times.

The Day was first commemorated on April 7, 1988 to mark the 40th anniversary of its initiator, the World Health Organisation (WHO), as World Tobacco Day but was later changed to World No Tobacco Day. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Tobacco: Threat to Our Planet”. It is intended to focus on the impact of tobacco on our environment from cultivation, production, distribution and waste after its consumption.

 According to the statistics released by WHO to mark this year’s commemoration, no fewer than 146,000 adults aged 30 years and above die yearly from tobacco-related ailments in Africa… their active and productive years.

However, in spite of the deliberate efforts by the WHO to save smokers from themselves, little success has been recorded globally. The war between manufacturers of tobacco products and various governments has persisted for decades. This is largely due to the manipulative tactics tobacco companies use to ‘seduce’ people into smoking their products which are highly engineered to fuel addiction. They also sink billions of dollars each year into mega advertisements, portraying people smoking as being cool, glamorous and macho.

Global statistics of smokers reveal that over one billion people are hooked to the killer habit, with women accounting for a quarter of the number, smoking over 600bn cigarette sticks annually. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are sucked into the dangerous practice every year. Researchers are of the belief that if the current trend continues, over 250m lives will be lost to tobacco-related diseases over time. Second-hand smoking also accounts for about 600,000 global deaths annually, including 165,000 kids. It is on record that over 100m people died of tobacco-related diseases in the 20th Century. There is also a possibility of about one billion people dying of tobacco-related ailments in the 21st Century.

Expectedly, Nigeria joined the global community in observing the annual ritual. In recent years, some efforts were made to tame the tobacco monster. In 2007, the federal government attempted to get the courts to show these merchants of death the way out of the country. It demanded that the manufacturers should pay about N5trn in damages for the health risks their products posed. We also recall that in 1990, the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida promulgated an act banning cigarette smoking in public nationwide in order to protect non-smokers from the hazard associated with tobacco smoking. All these efforts went up in smoke.

No doubt, tobacco smoking has been a worldwide menace. The rich and powerful tobacco firms have continued to deploy huge resources to counter governments’ strategies to save their citizens. It is strange that millions of customers have kept faith with the risky habit even as regulators in almost all countries have compelled cigarette manufacturers to attach warning labels when advertising their products.

Cigarette smoking constitutes a serious danger to human health. It is the forerunner of lung disease (the focus of this year’s commemoration), renal problems, stroke, complications in pregnancy, among other killers. It is also responsible for infertility in men and women. The carbon monoxide from smoking also robs the muscles, the brains and body tissues of oxygen, thus weakening the entire human system. The youth, the strength of any nation, are most vulnerable.

Beyond the annual ritual of the World No-Tobacco Day, we urge governments at all levels to make the campaign against the risky habit a daily affair. The various ministries of health across the country and relevant Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) should work in tandem with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to put in place a public enlightenment mechanism to sensitise the people on the hazards associated with cigarette smoking. The government has a responsibility to wean and/or save its citizens from this deadly addiction.

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