By Akeem Ogunlade
THERE are significant health risks associated with cigarette smoking, no doubt. These risks become even more severe when an individual starts smoking early in life. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventing tobacco use among young people is crucial for stopping the “tobacco epidemic” in the US.
The chief culprit in initiating young people into smoking is characterizing flavoured tobacco products such as chocolate, cherry, apple, orange etc., according to studies. The products are potentially appealing to young people. One of such studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and carried out by a team led by Bridget K. Ambrose of the Center for Tobacco Products of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that “most tobacco use starts during youth and young adulthood.”
Among the youth aged 12 to 17 surveyed by JAMA, “the majority who self-reported ever experimenting with tobacco started with a flavored product, and most current tobacco users reported use of flavored products.”Another study found that 17-year-old smokers were more than three times more likely to smoke flavored cigarettes than 25 years-olds.
Although cigarette smoking rates among youths have dropped in the US, the figure remains significantly high in Nigeria and other developing countries. The situation is even aggravated by the widespread of flavoured cigarettes in the Nigerian market, which is made possible by the nation’s numerous porous borders with its neighbouring countries and the willful violation on import restriction on the product.
Only recently, there was a media report on a Dubai-based company deploying 500 hawker boxes meant for the distribution and sale of a brand of flavoured cigarettes known as Mond, in Kano State. This is in spite of clear regulation on importation of tobacco products, which prohibits flavoured cigarettes. The company reportedly does not have the Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) Certificate, a mandatory Customs clearance document, which is issued by SON, as cigarette is one of SONCAP-regulated products.
The discovery reinforces the widely held view that illicit flavoured cigarettes are regularly smuggled into the Nigerian market. The products are often concealed inside cargoes during shipment and transported through land borders of neighbouring countries before they are ferried into the country.
Sadly, apart from occasional raids of dealers and their arrests, not much has been done in the area of creating awareness on the dangers inherent in illicit trade in cigarette, and particularly the proliferation of flavoured cigarettes in the Nigerian market.
Theanti-tobacco groups’ activism in creating awareness on the health risks in smoking and in pressuring government to scale down tobacco consumption in the country is, no doubt, quite commendable. But more importantly, they should support government and its relevant agencies to create awareness about the scourge of illicit trade and collaborate with them in fighting it. One area where their intervention can be felt is in the Youth Smoking Prevention campaign. Regrettably, the anti-tobacco lobby have evidently been too preoccupied with agitating for the closure of the tobacco industry without due consideration to the dire socio-economic consequences therein. It is safe, therefore, to say that anti-tobacco groups, as critical stakeholders in the global effort to clamp down on tobacco consumption, should incorporate in their campaign/advocacy the need to curb the influx of flavoured cigarettes into Nigeria. However, it has become more obvious from their recent activities that they tend to chase shadows and refuse to direct their energies to areas where their impact can be felt most. Rather than join forces with government and organizations like Youth Smoking Prevention campaign organizations to fight youth’s access to smoking and indiscriminate importation of flavoured cigarettes, they primarily focus on maligning and destroying the indigenous legitimate tobacco industries. They seem not to be motivated by an altruistic desire but rather by the pecuniary gains from negative activism and the need to justify the huge sums of money they get from their foreign sponsors.
The above view was corroborated in a recent newspaper interview granted by Mr. Wale Kayode, Director of Operations, Narconon Nigeria Initiative, a civil society organization committed to strengthening policies on the eradication of drug and alcohol abuse in Nigeria, while commenting on the consequences of flavoured cigarettes and the role of anti-tobacco groups.
“The reality is, young people in today’s world enjoy having options available to them and these options unfortunately include smoking cigarettes. Our position is there is a stronger voice in my counterparts – the anti-tobacco groups – who are critical stakeholders in this discourse. They have a huge role to play in supporting the government’s efforts in curbing the influx of flavoured cigarettes in the country. They have access to different levels of government who are willing to support them fully on their advocacy platforms. These efforts can be galvanized into fighting youth access to smoking, for example. Unfortunately, much of their effort is committed to maligning indigenous tobacco industries who can be held accountable,” Kayode noted.
Majority of smokers are aware of the dangers posed by tobacco but find it hard to quit. The allure of flavoured cigarettes is stronger, especially to underage smokers/children who have penchant for certain flavours as well as adults who did not previously smoke. Aware of this grave consequence, several governments the world over have come up with legislations and periodic plans to ban or control flavoured tobacco. The situation in Nigeria calls for greater caution and vigilance given the numerous porous borders through which these products are regularly smuggled into the country and the widespread corruption among government agencies who sometimes aid and abet unscrupulous importers to subvert regulations and proliferate the Nigerian market with illicit tobacco products.
Moreover, these products constitute greater health risks to consumers than the legitimate tobacco, as they are not submitted to regulatory bodies for vetting and do not usually meet health standards. Flavoured cigarette is usually a product of illicit tobacco business and illicit cigarette dealers are not legally authorized to manufacture or distribute the products in the country. Often, they employ subversive tactics to penetrate the market and evade tax and excise duties, thereby denying government of valuable revenue.
Ogunlade is of the Centre for the Promotion of Enterprise and Business Best Practice, Abuja.