The World Health Organisation has said about 1.2 million non-smokers die from exposure to tobacco smoke every year and that it is making efforts to encourage 100 million people to quit smoking.
WHO country representative to Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, made this known at a briefing to commemorate this year’s World No Tobacco Day with the theme ‘Commit to Quit’, in Abuja, acknowledging however that the choice to stop tobacco use lies in people’s hands.
The world body said Nigeria was among the countries selected for the implementation of the policy and that a call centre for quitting smoking would be set up in a bid to actualise this.
According to Mulombo, WHO will be supporting countries to scale-up programmes to help people quit tobacco, especially at the primary health care and community levels, pointing out that millions of people were motivated to quit tobacco during the COVID-19 pandemic because of evidence showing that tobacco smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off corona viruses and other diseases.
“Tobacco use harms nearly every organ in the human body. Even smoking one cigarette a day can seriously harm a person’s health. Tobacco use can lead to lung, mouth, throat oesophagus, stomach, bowel and other cancers. It increases the risk of chest and lung infections, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. There is no safe form of tobacco,” he said.
Out of the 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, he explained that 60 per cent had expressed the desire to quit but only 30 per cent had access to the tools to do so successfully.
Earlier in his address, the Minister of Health, Dr Osaghae Ehanire, advocated strong tobacco cessation while revealing plans to scale up tobacco cessation services to other parts of Nigeria so as to ensure that more tobacco users have access to this crucial service.
Ehanire said a tobacco cessation toll-free call centre would be set up in the ministry of health to offer cessation services to tobacco users, while there would also be a set up of mobile tobacco cessation (mCessation) services whereby tobacco users could access quit support using WhatsApp number +41 79893 1892.
Nigeria, according to him, will, as from June 23, 2021, commence implementation of graphic pictorial health warning messages on tobacco product packaging, to replace the age-long health warning texts, which reads ‘The Federal Ministry of Health Warns that Smokers Are Liable to Die Young’.
The graphic health warning is important and more effective because the picture on the product package drives the warning message home to those who cannot, or do not care to read about the damaging effects of tobacco use, he further stated.
Earlier, the chairman of the board, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, Akinbode Oluwafemi, called on the Federal Government to begin comprehensive enforcement of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.
According to Oluwafemi, the most effective steps towards getting people to quit tobacco, or not get initiated into tobacco addiction is by removing all the environments that promote smoking or those that encourage youths to take up smoking habit.
“Government should remove those conditions by implementing WHO -FCTC compliant laws and policies. Government must enforce the ban on tobacco advertising and promotion including the ban on smoking in movies and entertainment platforms, enforce graphic health warning on tobacco packs, enforce the ban of the sale of tobacco products to underage and raise taxes on tobacco products among other,” he said.
The laws are there, and the government must rise to the occasion by implementing those laws which it could complement with the incorporation of quitting services into the primary health care system, counselling and public awareness, he added.
In a goodwill message, the sub regional coordinator West Africa Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), Hilda Ochofu, reiterated the need to carry out implementation of the various regulations.
She said tobacco control laws are being passed in many African countries, adding with Nigeria’s ever-increasing population comes a huge responsibility to protect the future of the kids by ensuring they don’t pick up the deadly habit of using tobacco.