T WO dates have become very critical and significant in the sustained global war against smoking. One is March 13 of every year, which is declared the National No Smoking Day. The other is May 31, designated as the World No Tobacco Day. Each day is set aside to save lives through awareness campaigns on the hazards of smoking. In specific terms, the days are meant to further draw global attention to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) describes as the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form.
The universal campaign became necessary because annually, millions of people terminate their lives carelessly and prematurely due to their uncontrolled appetite for cigarettes. While global health institutions and experts assert that countless numbers of men, women, adolescents and vulnerable passive smokers die yearly because of smoking-related diseases and afflictions, the negative effects of smoking even on the unborn children at the foetal stage are unimaginable. Perhaps if smokers realised the devastating consequences of smoking on humanity, they would not hesitate to quit the habit.
Smokers are largely prone to developing heart disease, stroke, and cancer in all vital parts of the body. Smoking is equally linked to chronic respiratory disease characterised by pus-filled mucus in the lungs. This results in a painful cough and agonising breathing difficulties, especially among individuals who start smoking at a tender age. Children exposed to second-hand smoke risk becoming victims of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory infections.
An estimated 165,000 children are said to die before attaining age five as a result of lower respiratory infections because of second-hand smoke, while those who live into adulthood suffer the increased risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Apart from polluting the air, smoking is also linked to tuberculosis. Indeed, experts say that it causes more deaths each year than the combined effects of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); illegal drug use; alcohol use, vehicular injuries and firearm-related incidents. The annual No Smoking Campaign Day is in fact particularly instructive in Nigeria given the salient provisions of the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015. The legislation sets out the legal framework for the production, importation, distribution, sale and consumption of tobacco in the country. The law stipulates penalties and fines for violations.
In 2017, the current Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, underscored the importance of the law and the need for strict implementation. That pronouncement appears not to have been followed up with serious action. Stakeholders need to work together on the campaign, especially on the provisions that prohibit the sale of cigarettes in single sticks, and the sale of tobacco to and by anyone under the age of 18. According to the law, cigarettes can only be sold in packs of 20 sticks only. It also prohibits smoking in childcare facilities, educational facilities, restaurants, stadia, amusement parks, plazas, public transport, bars, or other public spaces.
As a matter of fact, smokers should be made to realise that they do not only endanger their own lives and the lives of other non-smokers, but also inflict incalculable damage on the national economy due to the increased healthcare expenditure that their action compels. This also invariably compounds poverty, as the money that individuals should spend on the basic needs of life is burnt by smoking. The advocacy against smoking in the country demands greater vigour.