Tobacco-free Public Space in Africa’s Most Populous Country

Smoking 2018__

(Unsplash, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Mr. Nelson Udeme-Abasi Udoudo, a 5th year medical student of the University of Uyo, Uyo in Nigeria. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


So easy it is to identify tobacco use as an important modifiable risk factor in the causation of cardiovascular, respiratory and several neoplastic diseases, but yet difficult to completely terminate on account of the many challenges faced by key players in the diaspora to halt and ultimately exterminate the strategies employed by the obviously buoyant tobacco industry.

Over 6 million deaths worldwide are directly linked to tobacco use annually, with an additional 15% of this digit due to second-hand tobacco consumption1. Unfortunately, the developing world makes up approximately over 80% of the world’s tobacco market with Nigeria being at the front burner of this enterprise on account of her daring population size of over 190 million people (2017). This may have come after the strict take of most countries in Europe against tobacco use, compelling the tobacco industry to intensify supply on new waters.

Just before January 2017 and two years after enacting her National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA2015) in concordance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control FCTC, the prevalence of tobacco use among youths and adults in Nigeria stood at 15.4% and 7.5% respectively2. There still seems to be no substantial proofs that the NTCA enactment is anywhere close to implementation neither does the political body language suggests that the act is one that would be uninfluenced by the tobacco industry and its key sponsors. Tobacco smoking seems to constitute the highest form of its usage amongst Nigerians asides other forms such as chewing, sucking, or snuffing.

Interestingly, public places such as motor parks, marketplaces, party gatherings, college and university environments, clubhouses and also uncompleted buildings within densely populated cities are still very much smoke-filled rather than smoke-free. You would usually find a local vendor in the slums who sells tobacco products alongside alcoholic drinks, while a bar or club is the appropriate equivalent in relatively civilised places. The level of literacy and awareness about the adverse effects of tobacco on health, social, economic and psychological status seems to solve no problem as tobacco is fast becoming a favourite substance of appeal to both the literate and illiterate.

So why does the most populous country in Africa still drag behind at beating tobacco use in public spaces to conquest? The answer lies much more on several other questions. Why does it take a bill passed to domesticate the WHO FCTC four years before receiving presidential approval? Why are committees setup to handle tobacco control within the country subject to political appointees such as the Minister of Health directly, and indirectly to the senate chambers  where politics is given freewill to exploit the weaknesses of these committees’ dependence?  Why is the tobacco industry still highly welcomed in the country under the guise of their performing corporate social responsibilities? Why would the government not  outrightly barn the importation, manufacturing, processing, advertising, sponsorship and marketing of tobacco products? As Festus Ukwueze et al rightly put it as much barking without biting3, I add that we may be drinking poison as a nation with sugar-coated mouth.

References

  1. World Health Organisation keyfacts. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco on 22/10/18 by 10:05pm
  2. WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic (2017): Nigerian profile.
  3. Festus Ukwueze, Chukwunweike Ogbuabor et al (2018).”Tobacco Control Legislation and Policy in Nigeria: Much Barking without Biting”. Elixir International Law 114(2018) 49641-49651.

About the author

Nelson Udeme-Abasi Udoudo is a 5th year medical student of the University of Uyo, Uyo in Nigeria. He is presently the Capacity Building Assistant for Nigeria under the aegis of the IFMSA. He is also the coordinator of the Print Media arm of an activity-Health Compass, which is registered under the Healthy lifestyle and Non-communicable Diseases NCDs program of the IFMSA. His interests cut across the world of research, teaching, artworks and paediatric surgery. He has published several articles about NCDs on various websites and blogs. His biggest motivation are the tear drops from crying children.

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