March 8 is dedicated to honouring women’s achievements in different spheres of life annually. It is also a day that women from different backgrounds and culture come together to fight for women’s rights and address issues of bias. The theme for this year’s commemoration is #EachforEqual and as usual, it serves as an action call for improvement of women’s situations globally.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this event, it is important to highlight some of the factors militating against women realising their fullest potential. One of them is the tobacco menace.
Smoking still remains a leading risk factor for early deaths as 15 per cent of global deaths are attributable to it. While men are much more likely to smoke than the women-folk, about 250 million women in the world smoke daily. This translates to about 22 per cent of women in developed countries and about nine per cent of women in developing countries according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In all this, Big Tobacco is having a field day promoting smoking to women via false imagery of slimness, emancipation, and sexuality, among other lies. They even go as far as ‘feminising’ cigarettes by way of making it look extra slim and light colored in some cases. For reasons of self-esteem and peer pressure, a lot of young girls get hooked easier than the boys.
Tobacco use harms women more in different ways than men. Statistics has shown that women who smoke as opposed to women who don’t experience infertility issues and delayed conception. Women who engage in smoking during pregnancy also experience stillbirth, premature delivery and reduction in breast milk for lactating mothers. Smoking also increases women’s risk of different types of cancer including cancer of the cervix. Hence women are more vulnerable to the dangers inherent in tobacco smoking and the negative impact it inflicts on health.
We cannot leave the tobacco industry to continue jeopardising the future of the girl-child through the various tactics they evolve to make profit at the expense of the health of addicted and passive users. It is because of this reason that tobacco control efforts should be a joint venture. Parents should be on the lookout for their kids especially pre-teens and teens. Teachers should take their classroom work beyond teaching as even simple interactions between them and students can divulge this death habit. They can also include simple tobacco prevention and cessation tips in their school activities.
The commemoration of the IWD 2020 is an opportunity for all stakeholders to continue galvanizing efforts to end the tobacco menace. Women rights groups across Nigeria and the continent must support the Federal Government’s efforts geared towards eliminating the negative attractions of the tobacco industry. While the Federal Government’s gazette of the National Tobacco Control Regulations is commendable, its enforcement along with the NTC Act 2015 should be a thing of priority. It is particularly recommended that the ban on sale in single sticks, the ban on sale to minors and the recommended pictorial warnings on cigarette packs commence. The inauguration of a Tobacco Control Fund as recommended in the NTC Act 2015 should not be delayed any longer to check the tobacco industry which is ever ready to exploit any available loophole.
Because Big Tobacco does not slow down in its bid to recruit more smokers especially young girls, we should also not rest on our oars as only healthy women can realise their full potential!
Oluchi Joy Robert works with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.