The health of Nigerian kids is at risk and the government is not paying attention.
The bleak picture: According to the Tobacco Atlas, 25,000 Nigerian children between the ages of 10 and 14 use tobacco products on a daily basis. This would mean 17 children are smoking every minute. The toll is increasing and consequently the health hazards associated with the harmful substance. A survey(pdf) revealed that at least 87% of junior schools in Nigeria had tobacco point of sale within 100 meters of their premises.
Already in Nigeria, the WHO estimates that Non-Communicable Diseases – including cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer – account for about 29% of premature deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases of which smoking is a major risk factor. Another survey carried out by our firm, Gatefield revealed that one among every four vendors sell cigarettes to kids.
Why it matters: The Nigerian Tobacco Control Act of 2015 prohibits the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, to and by minors under the age of 18. The law requires that vendors should have this information on signage at their point of sale as well as request for official identification before any sale is made. The law carries a penalty of up to 1 year in prison and a 200,000 naira fine.
However, this law is yet to be implemented and enforced. Early this year, the Consumer Protection Council made some efforts to enforce but such efforts have not been sustained.
As a result of lax taxation regimes, cigarettes in Nigeria are already very cheap and anybody including kids could get a single stick of cigarette for less than 20 Naira (10 cents). If the government does not enforce this law, perpetrators of this law will continue to live in our societies unpunished. The consequences are enormous:
- Smoking is a gateway to doing other drugs because smokers are more open to experimenting with other substances in their adult lives. With little to no child focused intervention on the side of the government concerning drug addiction, we have a crisis in waiting.
- Smoking at an early age can result to serious nicotine addiction up to the individual’s adult years. The health risks include cancers, CVS and other NCDs.
The Challenge: There are hurdles before the NTC Act 2015 which among other things prohibits smoking in public spaces, tobacco advertising and the sale of cigarettes in single sticks. Full implementation would mean that regulations which detail specifically how the laws should apply has to be passed. These regulations which was put together by Nigeria’s Ministry of Health with input from other government ministries and agencies was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2018. The document has found its way to the National Assembly where it is being deliberated.
What to do: It is important to maintain public pressure for the enforcement of this law. Recently, public affairs firm, Gatefield, launched a campaign #DontWaitRegulate to create awareness about the existing law and to pressure the Nigerian legislators to pass the regulations needed for its complete implementation. This is one of the efforts that can be taken to address this emergency. Another quick win is for the government to take this campaign beyond the domain of public health and ensure that teachers educate students and those responsible for them on the importance of staying away from tobacco. Tobacco products should not be sold close to schools like they are now. Our government must not hesitate to wield the big stick to save these tiny, unwitting targets.