Search This Blog

Saturday, July 30, 2011

‘There is no good in smoking’


Betty Abah, project officer of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), has been campaigning against smoking for years. She speaks extensively with OSEYIZA OOGBODO on smoking issues.

Why do people smoke?
Smoking is basically a habit that is most times associated with peer pressure, meaning many people, especially the young ones, find themselves deeply entrenched in the habit before they even realise why they are doing it or if it has any benefit at all. Unfortunately, at that point, most must have become deeply addicted and can’t get out. Some say they smoke to get pressures off their mind and then eventually realise that it worsens whatever situation they are trying to escape from, because when you come down with a tobacco-related cancer, you will realise, too late, that that even dwarfs the so-called pressure. And you know that cancer is no child’s play. Tobacco is evil and a completely senseless one because it has no profit whatsoever. 

What are the dangers in smoking?The dangers associated with smoking are legion. It adversely affects every part of the body and is the cause of several forms of cancer including cancers of the lungs, cervix, breast, skin, oral as well as heart attacks, stroke, impotence, and also several types of respiratory diseases. It is well known in medical circles that it is the leading cause of lungs cancer, and that between 85 to 90 percent of lungs cancer cases are as a result of tobacco use. So, if you take up two packs of cigarette a day, then you can be sure you are a candidate for lungs cancer. And why it is so very painful is the fact that many non-smokers fall victim of smokingrelated diseases and even death because of exposure to tobacco smoke, what is called Second Hand Smoking (SHS) or Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS).In China for instance (which has the highest rate of tobacco use in the world), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco use kills over a million people every year, about a quarter of the entire global casualty rate, and out of this, about 300,000 are non-smokers who are victims of SHS. I stayed briefly at a cosmopolitan hotel in a city last year while attending a meeting and I had to browse at the lounge. For the two hours or so that I spent there, it was as if I had smoked a whole pack of cigarettes. One of the receptionists, a Lebanese, I think, smoked non-stop and filled up the ash tray in front of him continuously. After some time I had to walk up to him to demand why he had to force me and about a dozen others in the room to smoke. He apologised limply and promised to reduce his smoking rate.Imagine what happens to his colleagues who have to put up with him for several hours every day in that fully air-conditioned and sealed place. Imagine the danger that people across this country face every minute owing to ignorance and also as a result of non-implementation of smoke-free laws.

Why are you campaigning against smoking?I am involved in this campaign as a life-saving measure especially because tobacco- related deaths which happens mostly among young and productive people are completely preventable. I am involved in passing the message that we don’t have to be a dumping ground for the rejects of the earth. As you know, tobacco multinationals are highly stigmatised in Western countries and strict anti-smoking policies are running them out of business, so what is happening is that Nigeria and other developing countries have been targeted as fertile soil for them to recoup lost grounds, to maximise profit. This is also made possible because like many third world countries, we have weak legislations. As you might also have known, until recent years, tobacco multinationals were invited here and greatly pampered with tax exemptions and all kinds of incentives by the government. So, I think the onus is on us as Nigerians to speak out against this evil trend.No company, no matter the jobs it creates, should be tolerated if their end products sicken and kill the best of the land, because at the end it worsens the economy and places additional burdens on an already overstressed health system. It kills them young. And mind you, many of our youths who are hooked on drugs now begin by taking the readily available cigarette, and of course you know how much drugs ruins lives. That’s why we are up against this menace.

Is it true that there is a law against cigarette adverts?Yes, the anti-smoking law prohibits all forms of Tobacco Advertising and Promotions (TAPs). But even before this bill, one of the provisions of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Nigeria signed and ratified, banned tobacco advertisement. That’s why you don’t see all the tobacco adverts, jingles, and promotional fashion and music shows anymore. But tobacco companies are slippery by nature so they still try to do one thing or the other to promote their deadly product, but no doubt, it’s a dying trade. 

Does smoking affect the environment in any way?Smoking affects mostly the people who use and those who stand or sit by smokers. But it has also been proven over time that tobacco plants kill the soil and endanger other crops, that’s why when you look at a tobacco farm, you hardly see any other crops planted alongside. I have been to the tobacco farming communities in Ago-Are in Oyo State, and I have seen others, so I can tell you it’s true. They are as deadly as they come. 

Adverts say smokers are liable to die young. If this is true, why are people smoking?Majority of people who smoke do so not because they like the habit but because they are hooked on it. This is especially true with long-term smokers. The manufacturers deliberately increase the rate of nicotine in each pack of cigarette to ensure that they can’t get out of the trap. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and works very fast in the body once it has contact with it, that’s why you see someone who has been diagnosed with lungs cancer as a result of tobacco use but is still smoking heavily. That’s why you see that people expose their families to poverty because of their smoking habit and yet are not about to quit and save money because they are in nicotine bondage. And that is exactly why we try to discourage young people, not to try at all, before they get addicted.But sadly, it is the same young generation that is being targeted by the tobacco companies. As they are gradually losing their aging customers to death and disinterest, they just have to make up for that gap and keep selling the poisonous thing. Sad. In developed countries, there are several cessation programmes in the forms of counselling classes, toll-free quit lines, nicotine therapies, among others, but you hardly find them here because often, health is not a priority of our government. So, if you are hooked, it takes a lot of determination and atimes, the sheer grace of God to get out and live a normal life. 

What are the statistics on how smoking is killing or making Nigerians sick?Like many other things in this country, there is yet to be definite statistics, but one of the few we have is that of a survey carried out by the Lagos State Ministry of Health in 2006 which showed that out of 29 hospitals surveyed, two people die of tobacco-related ailments daily. Also, that in that year, the state recorded more than 9,000 cases of tobacco-related ailments and the Lagos State Government spent as much as N216,000 on each of them.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Smoking: Costly habit, captive addicts

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared smoking injurious to health but smokers are still puffing away. OSEYIZA OOGBODO takes a look into this highly addictive practice and its attending dangers.
Smoking for a long time has donned a toga of controversy as to its religious, social, economic and health implications. But, some time ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ruled: smoking is injurious to health.

Regardless of this development and the attending compliance at tobacco smoking reduction practically the world over, Nigeria’s case is peculiar: her residents keep smoking in both designated and undesignated areas as if unaware of the WHO proclamation. Betty Abah, an anti-smoking advocate, who is a member of the tobacco control team of the NGO, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) confirms that Nigerian smoking is actually on the increase. “According to the World Health Organisation’s global report two years ago, tobacco use is on the increase in the country especially among young women. It’s not to say women smoke more here, but it implies that more and more women are taking up the habit. It is especially so in tertiary institutions, which is a sad case because the impact of tobacco on the female body is faster and even more deadly than on their male counterparts.”

Getting cigarettes in Nigeria is very easy since they are available on virtually every street through those who have stalls and sitting areas for their cigarette purchasers who want to smoke right at the point of purchase. There are also beer parlours, general goods traders and traditional liquor sellers who offer the popular cigarette brands. Those who are in a hurry smoke while walking along the street. Funny enough, there is a Nigerian law that bans smoking in public places just like in most countries across the world. But it doesn’t seem effective going by the volume of public smoking.

Abah sheds light on the law. “Yes, the law is embedded in the new National Tobacco Control Bill. Public places are supposed to be smoke-free so as to safe-guard the health of non-smokers and also to reduce the general smoking rate. And, by public places, we mean places like restaurants, schools, airports, offices, any enclosed place where people gather. Public places in this context are not roadsides, streets or highways. However, the bill is awaiting Presidential Assent to make it a legal law.”

But even as smoking is rampant, be it in the day or night, there is a method to it. Men can smoke publicly anywhere they like during the day. It is however very difficult to see women smoking publicly in the daytime. But it is not as if they too don’t smoke in the daytime, but they do so in seclusion. For instance, at an event recently, a popular female fashion designer who needed to smoke her favourite brand of cigarette had to hide in a toilet to do so while men smoked care freely in the lobby in full public view. Yet, many of the smokers can’t do so in front of their parents, bosses, landlords and people they look up to because the Nigerian society frowns heavily on smoking. Once a person is known as a smoker, he is most times labelled a doubtful character, hence not taken seriously and treated with condescension. So if a man sometimes faces tribulation because he smokes, a woman who is known to smoke will face quite a tougher time of stigmatisation.

Such is the danger smoking is that it is clearly stated on cigarette packs that smokers are liable to die young. And death is what most humans fear most. If most humans had a choice, they wouldn’t want to die. But some of these same humans prefer to smoke even when they had been warned that smoking could kill them. As smoking is a terrible hazard to smokers themselves, the threat of second hand smoke (non-smokers inhaling cigarette smoke) is probably what is making experts make concrete moves to enforce a ban on smoking in public places. But as a matter of courtesy, people don’t really complain when they see people smoking even when the smell irritates them.

At a press conference to mark the 2008 World Heart Day, Prof. Ayodele Omotoso and Prof. Wale Oke, said, “Government should as a matter of urgency prohibit the habit of smoking in public places as cardiovascular experts have discovered effect of smoking is more harmful to non-smokers than actual smokers.” The issue of smoking is a very strange one, to say the least. Oluwagbohunmi Balogun, a committed chain smoker, says, “I love smoking. I can say I love it more than any other thing on earth.” He however concurs that “I never knew I would be a smoker, though. It is not something I can say that I planned to do. Somehow, it happened and I’m in love with it now.

“That I’m smoking sometimes makes me laugh when I think back to when I was in secondary school. I was a boarder and my seniors who used to smoke would send me to buy cigarettes and say I should smoke with them. Back then, I always refused, because if I had accepted, they would have taken me to the Senior Prefect and reported me that I was smoking and he would have punished me.” Balogun had a further funny tale to recount. “What’s even surprising to me again is that my friends and I who refused to smoke then in boarding school all met up later and we had all started smoking without anyone forcing us the way our seniors were doing but we were scared then so as not to become known as smokers by our teachers and the entire school.”

Such is Balogun’s addiction to smoking a particular brand that he complains if such is presented to him in the pack of another. “It affects the taste,” was his explanation. “Maybe it’s because I don’t smoke any other brand.” Even as Balogun is proud of his smoking habit, Peter, a bass guitarist, regrets his brief romance with smoking. “I used to smoke a lot. Then when I began coughing out white portions of my innards, I knew I had to stop or die. I stopped, but it wasn’t easy, though. I kept returning to it until God took control finally.”


Like Peter, Jare Ayo-Martins, co-presenter/ producer of popular Yoruba TV magazine programme, Owuro Lawa, is also an ex-smoker. “I started smoking when I was in my teens. I began smoking due to peer group pressure.” However, after 12 years of smoking, Ayo-Martins stopped. “I stopped because it wasn’t doing me any good.” When Saturday Mirror asked him if it was perhaps affecting his health, he refuted it, and then added, “The anti-smoking sensitization campaigns also made me realize the need to stop.” He however admitted that he wasn’t a chain smoker. “I was just a normal smoker. The most I ever smoked in a day was four sticks. I never smoked a pack in a day.” Now, Ayo-Martins says of smoking: “It doesn’t do any good, so smokers should stop, but it’s difficult to stop.”