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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.