The alarm by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigeria Heart Foundation (NHF) over the increasing number of Nigerians engaged in smoking and tobacco consumption is worrisome. The NHF, which raised the concern during this year’s World No Tobacco Day, with the theme “Commit to Quit,” tasked the Federal Government to implement the various instruments regulating smoking and intake of tobacco.
In 2015, according to NHF, it was estimated that the number of current smokers will increase from 8 to 11 million over a 30 year period while the average number of cigarettes consumed per person per day was 10.1, accounting for 110 million cigarettes per day and over 40 billion cigarettes consumed in Nigeria in 2015. This is a conservative estimate as the number of the smokers in the country must be higher than the figure.
The risks associated with smoking are many. Tobacco kills more than eight million people each year. More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke is the smoke that fills enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes and water-pipes. WHO has warned that smoking just one cigarette a day can seriously harm a person’s health.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said tobacco kills half of its users and harms nearly every organ in the human body. Smoking, she added, impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases. The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, corroborated the rising death toll from tobacco in Nigeria, citing the Tobacco Atlas of 2018 reports which estimated more than 16,100 deaths from tobacco-related diseases every year and the 2012 research findings by the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa, which showed that 29,472 deaths in the country were attributable to smoking. The results give cause for concern.
We agree with the WHO that all forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include water-pipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco and pipe tobacco. Smoking comes with health hazards and other costs. According to experts, cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general. It increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 65. Smoking contributes to Type 2 diabetes and increases the risk of complications from the disease, including poor blood flow to legs and feet. This can lead to infection and result in the need for amputation.
Smoking can also affect ability to conceive. It causes reduced fertility in women and can contribute to other problems during pregnancy. Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with defects. In infants, it raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.Tobacco use contributes to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs such as food and shelter to the practice.
Nigeria has made some efforts to control and regulate smoking, especially with the 2015 National Tobacco Control Act and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019, the Tobacco Control Fund, and stipulated more stringent measures for violating the law. The problem, however, lies in implementing the laws. It is sad that the department that oversees implementation of the policy has no budget line.
The Federal Government should step up efforts to curb the menace of smoking and other tobacco uses in the country. We call on the authorities to commence full implementation of the Tobacco Act to save lives of 1.2 million non-smokers annually.
Government should also enforce the ban on tobacco advertising and promotion, including the ban on smoking in movies and entertainment platforms. Let it ban sale of tobacco products to the underage while raising tobacco taxes.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and has one of the leading tobacco markets on the continent with over 18 billion cigarettes sold annually costing Nigerians over US$ 931 million. Raising the taxes on tobacco can be cost-effective in reducing the use and health care costs, especially among youth and low-income people, while increasing national revenue.