WHO calls for complete tobacco ban in Nigeria

Tobacco is responsible for more than eight million deaths annually.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is desirous of a tobacco-free Nigeria and for its products to be completely banned in the nation.

The country representative to Nigeria, Dr Walter Mulombo, said this on Friday in Abuja at a news conference to commemorate the 2024 World No Tobacco Day with the theme “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference”.

According to Nr Mulombo, everyone can work toward ensuring future generations are free from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine addiction.

He said “I dream of the day when tobacco products will be banned in Nigeria, not allowed to be sold or bought.”

The tobacco industry must be held accountable for the harm caused to health, the environment and the economy, he stated.

He added that “tobacco is responsible for more than eight million deaths annually, with more than seven million of the deaths being results of direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million non-smokers die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

“A recently released report by WHO termed ‘Hooking the Next Generation’ showed that an estimated 37 million children aged 13 to 15 years use tobacco, and in many countries, the rate of e-cigarette use among adolescents exceeds that of adults.

“The report also indicated that most adults who use tobacco started when they were children or young adults, with lifetime users most likely to become hooked before the age of 21 years.

“This indicates that the industry targets youths for a lifetime of profits, creating a new wave of addiction.”

Mr Mulombo also said that the range of products the industry used to appeal to youths has expanded significantly, from cigarettes, cigarillos and shisha to newer products like e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches.

He added that flavoured products and additives, sleek designs and child-friendly packaging and imagery, made addictive products even more appealing to youths.

“Companies rapidly launch new products that sidestep, or are not included, in current laws, and use every available means to expand their market share before regulations can catch up with them.

“Unfortunately, these tactics are working. Evidence from around the world shows an alarming uptake by children of some products, such as e-cigarettes.

“The tobacco industry is succeeding in its efforts to create a new generation of young people who smoke, vape, suck nicotine pouches or use snuff.”

On the situation in Nigeria, the coordinating minister of health and social welfare, Ali Pate, said the 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) shows that 4.5 million Nigerians 15 years and older are currently using tobacco products, of which, 3.1 million are smokers.

Mr Pate added that “the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted in 2008 across five states in Nigeria shows the prevalence of tobacco use among adolescents aged 13 to 15 years, ranging from 13.1 per cent to 23.3 per cent in Lagos State and Cross River.”

Represented by the ministry’s permanent secretary, Daju Kachollom, the minister said that the consequences of tobacco industry interference on children’s health are profound and far-reaching, leading to a host of adverse health outcomes.

They include respiratory ailments, cognitive impairment and increased susceptibility to addiction later in life.

Also, he said, exposure to secondhand smoke poses a significant threat to children’s well-being, exacerbating the risk of respiratory infections, asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

“Exposure to tobacco smoke also goes as far as exposing children in the uterus, even before they are given birth to.

“Exposure of the mother to tobacco smoke can cause poor birth outcomes and affect lung, cardiovascular and brain development of the baby.

“This can also increase the risk of obesity, behavioural problems and cardiovascular disease later in life”, Pate added.

He, however, said that in combating the menace posed by tobacco, Nigeria made several giant strides such as signing and ratifying the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

He added that the ministry in collaboration with other line ministries, department and agencies and other stakeholders developed the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015, and its implementing Regulations in 2019.

According to him, the act contains several provisions that provide protection of children, such as the ban on sale and purchase of tobacco and tobacco products by minors.

He added that the tobacco control unit has concluded plans to establish tobacco-free clubs in selected schools, and sensitise owners/managers of public places in one state each from the six geopolitical zones, with the collaboration of management sciences for health.

The chairman, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said that because children are being targeted by products known to be very harmful, “the nation must respond with very targeted laws and enforcement.

“We have the National Tobacco Control Act, we have the National Tobacco Regulation 2019. We are grateful to the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) on the regulation of smoking in movies.

“We want government to enforce those laws as a way of protecting our children. As at the time we were enacting the National Tobacco Control Act 2015, a lot has changed with the tobacco industry.

“They continue to mutate and come in various forms so it may be time for us to begin to engage on how to strengthen those laws.”

The executive secretary, NFVCB, Dr Shaibu Husseini, said various efforts had been put in by regulatory bodies to sanitise and educate parents, guardians and the public about the ills of tobacco use.

Represented by Hasina Nasir, Mr Husseini said the board realised that tobacco industries hide under the banner of entertainment to promote and advertise their products in all forms.

“Today, the film industry is facing an emergency that requires bold and ambitious actions from all of us as parents, guardians and stakeholders.

“Therefore, after series of engagements, the NFVCB decided to partner CAPPA to make a subsidiary legislation to control glamorisation of tobacco products in films, music videos and skits.

“The proposed legislation has been forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Justice for gazzetting,” he added.

World No Tobacco Day is commemorated every year on May 31.

The 2024 theme is to raise awareness across the world and to call on the tobacco industry to stop targeting young people with products that are harmful to their health.


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