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Forward next steps on Nigeria’s Tobacco Control Act

Tobacco-2The last recorded words of Russian-born ace Hollywood actor, Yul Bryner, in a TV commercial he knew he would not live to see were ‘Now that I am gone I tell you: Do not smoke. Whatever you do, do not Smoke’. Yul’s role in the legendary 1956 film, Ten Commandments, in which he starred as the stone-hearted Pharaoh Rameses II remains indelible in the minds of epic film lovers even till this day.

But however deep his regrets for taking to the stick, it did not reverse the cancer that had ravaged his lungs or a future he foresaw of conscripted smokers dying from the poisons in beautiful packs. On October 10, 1985, few days after those words were recorded he died.

Other top-rate celebrities known to have romanticized with the stick who also succumbed to cancer and the cold hands of death include Bill Bixby the iconic hero of the Incredible Hulk series which aired from 1977 to 1982, George Harrison of the 1960’s rock group The Beetles, Eddie Kendrick of the famous music group Temptations, and first rate singer Frank Sinatra. Patrick Swayze, who played an astonishing role in the film Dirty Dancing was a confirmed chain-smoker. He recently died from pancreatic cancer, adding to an inexhaustible list of tobacco-induced deaths.

These fatalities are however not restricted to the United States and Europe. Africa, and in deed Nigeria has had its own share of avoidable deaths. Musicians, TV and radio, sports men and women presenters and the numbers are not likely to roll back except something happens fast

That intervention seemed to have come by way of the Tobacco Control Act signed into law by former president, Goodluck Jonathan before leaving office on 29 May 2015 after passing through several torturous hurdles which were avoidable.

But six months after the signing of the law, Nigerians would have expected the relevant agencies of government to commence adequate national sensitisation exercises. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) for instance, should have been deployed in an effort to help Nigerians familiarise with the provisions of the legislation through radio, newspapers and television jingles. Such a campaign would also educate the masses on their roles in makeingthe tobacco companies more responsible in the marketing of their deadly wares. But alas! That is yet to happen.

Such sensitisation is important in the light of the tobacco industry known antics of holding on to consumers of their products through deliberate falsehoods and mis-representation of government intentions when it comes to regulating their products.

Of importance is the need for the Federal Government to take a cue from recent example of Lagos where a leading tobacco company exploited the gap in the window period of sensitization after the passage of the states’ legislation prohibiting smoking in public places, to train men of the Nigerian Police on enforcement of smoke-free public places. The critical mind will ask what a marketer of death would educate the police on.

Except for the few Lagos residents versed with what the legislation entails, most will not have known that the tobacco company in question was trying to redefine what smoke-free public places actually means.

The federal government need not wait till the misrepresentations begin to commence sensitisation on the Tobacco Control Act. Such delay is costly!

Philip Jakpor is a public health advocate and can be reached on philitorium@yahoo.com

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