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Friday, June 1, 2012

Nigerians at risk of looming tobacco epidemic

In recent times, the issue of uncontrolled tobacco use has continued to attract comments from public health experts globally. This is so, following the high morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use compared to any other risk factor.
While 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) report revealed that tobacco currently kills over 5.4 million people annually; it also disclosed that tobacco use was the second cause of death globally (after hypertension).
Currently, it is responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide. Tobacco use is the number one preventable epidemic that the health community faces.
As Nigeria joined the rest of the World to mark ‘World No Tobacco Day’- a day set apart to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and its lethal effects, as well as promote adherence to WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), environmental and health experts have tasked government at all levels to adopt preventive comprehensive health education programmes on smoking cessation and control even as they urged President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the National Tobacco Bill (NTCB).
In an interview with BusinessDay, Akinbode Oluwafemi, director, Corporate Accountability & Administration, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), disclosed that countries across the globe have made strategic efforts to combat the dangers of smoking, especially among the youth by putting laws in place to regulate the production and marketing of tobacco products.
While the enactment of national laws and domestication of WHO’s FCTC are singular efforts in this direction, Akinbode revealed that the National Tobacco Bill, which was passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011 and concurred by the House of Representatives on May 31, 2011, is awaiting the President’s signature in order to make the bill a law.
According to Akinbode, “Nigeria has made giant strides in fulfilling our international obligations by attempting to domesticate the FCTC through the National Tobacco Control Bill. The bill seeks to end advertisement, sponsorship, promotion and prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors. It recommended pictorial warnings on cigarette packs and ban smoking in public places.
“More importantly, the bill seeks to create a committee, National Tobacco Control Committee which will serve as an advisory role in terms of reviewing the policy. That, essentially, is what the bill is all about.”
Akinbode explained that while the bill seeks 50 percent pictures of the health implications on cigarette packs, Mauritius has already enforced 70percent and Ghana thinking of about 60 percent.
“In fact, some countries like Australia have even gone beyond the pictures and talk about plain packaging. They know it that they cannot debate this because the international community has moved beyond what is even in the bill as at today. This is a bill that has direct impact on Nigerians but we are afraid these gains that we have worked for as civil society organisations, legislators and the Ministry of Health may become futile if the President does not sign the bill. We need to save Nigerian youths from the looming tobacco epidemic,” Akinbode concluded.
Sylvester Osinowo, Africa Regional president, World Association of Family Doctors, (WONCA), pointed out that smoking had been identified to cause the heaviest burden of morbidity and mortality on Nigerians compared to any other risk factor.
Osinowo stated that smoking causes coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women and poses adverse social, economic and developmental effects on the lives of individuals, their families and the community at large.
“Tobacco consumption causes multiple health risks as cigarette smokers are 2.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers. WHO’s cancer agency also indicates that smoking has been linked to about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases. The economic burden includes direct medical care cost for tobacco-induced illnesses, absence from work, reduction in productivity and death,” Osinowo stated.
The physician hinted that the primary health care (PHC) centres nearest to the people should be empowered to do push programmes with vigour to catch the youths before they adopt the serious health hazard habit.
The WONCA president, however, recommended that anti-smoking clinics be established in the PHCs and sickbay of colleges and tertiary institutions to rehabilitate those who were enmeshed already in the habit. He also appealed to family physicians and general medical practitioners to disengage themselves from habits such as smoking so as to be good role models for the society to follow.
While the intervention of the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu is a singular action that many generations of Nigerians will not forget, it is believed that safeguarding the health of Nigerians from the dangers of tobacco use remains critical in view of rising communicable and non communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer of different types, etc.