The war on tobacco must be total. It must be waged on all fronts and with the same precision that the tobacco industry deploys to addict our youths to tobacco and circumvent tobacco control policies. All true stakeholders must be involved in blocking loopholes that the industry exploits to carry on business as usual.
With the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, and the National Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019 finally in place, the tobacco industry has set its sights on social media, paid TV, and other platforms that Nigeria’s tobacco control law and policies do not adequately capture.
Watching films and going to cinemas are two especially important fads for the youths. The average Nigerian youth likes watching films and following the lifestyles of music and film stars.
They want to translate what they watch on the screen into their own lives, believing that whatever their film or music idols do is right and perfect. The tobacco industry understands this strong influence of the movie and music industry and now exploits it to promote an alternative and false lifestyle.
Tobacco companies now circumvent the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, Law of 2004 banning them from advertising tobacco products in the media through partnerships with government agencies to supposedly solve social problems.
Because of this, the NTC Act 2015 and Regulations 2019 (NTC Act Part V and Regulations Part IV Section 6) that apply to the entertainment and media sectors in the country are observed in the breach. Scriptwriters import smoking scenes into their scripts and many films and music show so-called role models smoking and puffing smoke into the air when in actual fact such scenes are not relevant to the movie or music storyline.
To address this malaise, the Nigerian government must begin engaging stakeholders in the entertainment sector who should understand better, that our impressionable youths are easily sold on images they see in the media, especially of supposedly ‘bright and rich’ actors and musicians that feature in such scenes.
Studies have been conducted around the world that show smoking images have impressions on youth initiation into smoking. Images of music stars and actors are flickers that register on their minds, so it is important that we are careful about what they see and hear.
Beyond APCON, the government must now engage movie and music producers, performers, scriptwriters, and artistes in clusters to sign on to the campaign for it to make a real impact. Research around the world has confirmed that tobacco advertisements, sponsorships, and promotions are major influences for youths and others to initiate tobacco consumption.
It is also important to engage the media in this fight since the industry is also using the advancement in technology, which is about information-on-the-go, to access and control what our youths see and imbibe.
The media and the entertainment industry must be exposed to how insidious the tobacco industry is, in infiltrating their ranks as a step towards inflicting life-long damage on the lives of our youth. All hands must be on deck.
Our youth are the future of our country and because they are at a stage where they are open to a lot of influences, it is important to begin to shape their lives now before they grow too formed with the wrong lifestyles and models.
For our youth, tomorrow might be too late. The time to take up this battle is now!