The warning that ‘Smokers are liable to die young’ is always ubiquitously written on the packs of most cigarettes, but to digest the message is one thing and to do it is a different matter. If those who consume tobacco products in Nigeria continue to do so at grave risks to their health, it is mostly because they cannot help themselves. .
A silent killer
On the occasion of the 2022 World`s No Tobacco Day held in Abuja, WHO Country Representative, Dr. Walter Kazuli Molumbo, expressed worry that non-communicable diseases were increasingly overtaking communicable diseases in terms of the number of deaths they cause in Nigeria.
According to Dr. Molumbo: “Close to 30,000 lives are lost yearly due to tobacco-related illnesses. This is far more than the 3,000 lives claimed by the COVID-19 pandemic in three years of the pandemic.” He described tobacco as a silent killer which manifests through cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and other ailments.
An emissary of death
Tobacco kills half of all its users, killing more than 8 million people each year. More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are a result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2020, 22.3 % of the global population used tobacco, including 36.7% of all men and 7.8 % of the world`s women.
To address the tobacco epidemic, WHO Member States adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2003. Currently 182 countries have ratified this treaty. The WHO MPOWER measures are in line with the WHO FCTC and have been shown to save lives and reduce costs from averted healthcare expenditure.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. All forms of tobacco are harmful and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include waterpipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis and kreteks.
Also, over 80% of the world`s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low-and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco related illness and death is heaviest. Tobacco use contributes to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs such as food and shelter to tobacco.
The economic costs of tobacco are substantial and include significant healthcare costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality.
Based on scientific evidence, the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) has concluded that 100% smoke-free environments are the only way to adequately protect the health of people from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke. Smoke-free laws protect the health of non-smokers and are popular, as they do not harm business and they encourage smokers to quit.
Toothless legislations on Tobacco
Nigeria has in operation the National Tobacco Act of 2015 and the National Tobacco regulations of 2019. But as with many other Nigerian legislations, the problem has hardly ever been the absence of these legislations. It has had more to do with their implementation.
Nigeria became a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on January 18,2006. Smoking is restricted to designated smoking areas in indoor public places and workplaces. Smoking is prohibited on public transport. Smoking is also prohibited in certain outdoor spaces, including: restaurants and bars and any place where food or drink is served or consumed, playgrounds, amusement parks, public parks and other public gathering places; bus stops, vehicle parks and seaport: among other areas or places.
The National Tobacco Control Regulations provide additional restrictions on the placement, operation and construction of any designated smoking areas.
The tasty threat
Nicotine contained in tobacco use is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, over 20 different types of cancer and many other debilitating health conditions. Every year, more than 8 million people die from tobacco use.
Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers. Second-hand smoke exposure has also been implicated in adverse health outcomes, causing 1.2 million deaths annually. Nearly half of all children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and 65,000 children die each year due to illness related to second-hand smoke. Smoking while pregnant can lead to several life-long health conditions for babies.
A sinister smokescreen
In spite of the apparent and abundant dangers the tobacco industry and its deadly products pose to countless people around the world especially low – and middle-income populations, the use of tobacco continues to appeal to people, partly because of its addictive tendencies and partly because of the aggressive tactics of the tobacco industry in pushing its interests.
With children and young people, and the environment facing multifaceted threats from the use of tobacco, the task of curbing this tasty threat has never been more urgent.