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Friday, January 8, 2010

Reducing Cancer begins with supporting Tobacco Control Bill

When news that former First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida had died from ovarian cancer in far away United States (US) filtered through the airwaves on December 27, 2009, many Nigerians realised that if the latest cancer victim was wife the former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, it is indeed time to check the killer disease. One way to fight cancer, a non communicable disease involving abnormal growth of cells, is keeping away from tobacco smoking.
According to data issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer affects people of all ages with the risk for most types increasing with age. With the increase of cancers recorded globally since 2008, the link between cigarette smoking and cancer has been brought to the fore.
Researchers have clarified that tobacco use is associated with many forms of cancer and that cancer caused about 13 per cent of all human deaths in 2007. Also, research has shown that cancer causes 90 per cent of lung cancer. These are some of the issues raised at a training on Cancer Reporting for Health Reporters organised by Journalists Advocacy on Tobacco & Health (JATH) in Lagos recently. Among resource persons at the workshop were Mrs. Ebun Anozie, Chief Executive Officer, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, also known as C.O.P.E., Akinbode Oluwafemi, Programme Officer, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Tosin Orogun of JATH, among others.
Tobacco’s role in increasing the chance of lung cancer is one of the most widely known of tobacco’s harmful effects on human health. Decades of research has demonstrated the link between tobacco use and cancer in many sites in the body in addition to the lungs. Other parts of the body that cancer can affect are the head and neck, (coveringof the esophagus, larynx, tongue, salivary glands, lip, mouth, and pharynx), urinary bladder and kidneys, uterine cervix, breast, pancreas, and colon.
According to the Programme Officer, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Akinbode Oluwafemi, there are about 599 approved additives in a stick of cigarette. He said, “Cigarette smoke is proven to contain over 4,000 toxic and cancer causing chemicals. The list is long: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia to name a few.”
He noted that smoking is a major risk factor for different cancers and apart from the high cost of cancer treatment and the infrastructural challenges, smoking related cancers account for 30 per cent of cancer related deaths.
Therefore, taking prompt action to check cancer related deaths becomes more compelling now considering the large number of smokers in the nation. Data issued by the WHO states that 17 per cent of Nigerian adults smoke, resulting in 17 million Nigerians. “And because research has shown that half of smokers are going to die of tobacco-related illnesses, that means 6.5 million Nigerians are going to die as a result of that smoking habit,” he said.
Consequently, Akinbode said that is why it is very urgent for government to begin to take actions in order to reduce tobacco use in Nigeria.
While he noted that tobacco related deaths are preventable, Programme Officer of ERA/FoEN urged the government to put in place policies that will discourage people from putting up the habit of tobacco smoking and for people who are already smoking to quit.
A speedy passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009, sponsored by Senator, Olorunnimbe Mamora will help, Akinbode said.
The bill, which has passed through the First Reading at the National Assembly seeks to domesticate the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that was negotiated under the WHO. Nigeria became a party to that convention in 2005.
Since Nigeria is now a part of that Convention, he said, “We should domesticate all the provisions of that international treaty.”
The provisions talks about Tobacco Demand Reduction, the mechanisms of which include ban on advert, sponsorship and promotion of tobacco products, raising taxes on them, creating smoke-free environment for the citizens and making the public places smoke-free.
Similarly, it includes awareness creation and obligations on cessation of tobacco smoking.The other side of it that has to do with manufacturing talks about packaging and labeling of tobacco products.
How do manufacturers package tobacco products? Programme Officer of ERA/FoEN said they have to put in place appropriate warnings on cigarette parks.
“For instance, Akinbode said the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommends 50 per cent pictorial warnings, meaning that manufacturers have to put on the cigarette park pictorials on what is cancer, that cigarettes cause impotence, that cigarettes smoke is dangerous for unborn babies and pregnant women, among others.”
According to him, these pictorial warnings are already being put on cigarette packages in some African countries. He said, “For instance, Mauritius has even moved a step further to say that those warnings will occupy 75 per cent of the display area on the cigarette park Besides, it is the same companies that are here that are manufacturing cigarettes in Mauritius. So, they don’t have any excuse for not complying with those laws in Nigeria.”