By Mashe Umaru Gwamna
As Nigeria battles to contain the raging COVID -19 pandemic, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), has warned that smokers are at higher risk of developing fatal complications from contracting the virus.
The group in a statement issued by its head, Media and Campaigns, Philip Jakpor, said that while there is currently no conclusive evidence that people who smoke tobacco are at higher risk of being infected with the virus, researchers have confirmed that people who smoke are at greater risk of other respiratory infections.
The World Health Orgnisation (WHO) has similarly warned that because smoking involves repeated hand-to-face motions, it creates a route of potential viral transmission, like the current COVID 19.
In view of the growing number of donors seeking to support government efforts to combat the spread of the virus, ERA/FoEN cautioned government at all levels from receiving donations from tobacco companies, saying such gestures are hypocritical of an industry whose products are directly and indirectly fueling the pandemic.
According to the group, the largest study investigating the link between COVID-19 and smoking published to date looked at clinical outcomes from 1,099 patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection from 532 hospitals across China.
The research discovered that 12.4% of current smokers either died, were admitted to an intensive care unit or required mechanical ventilation, compared with 4.7% of non-smokers. Along similar lines, 21.2% of current smokers had severe symptoms, as opposed to 14.5% of non-smokers.
Several countries have taken far-reaching actions to prevent imminent upsurge of smoking-induced fatalities as the COVID-19 virus ravages on. For instance, Russia has banned the use of Hookah (Shisha) in all public catering facilities. On March 16 the Governor of Cairo banned Hookah (Shisha) in cafés and restaurants. Other nations that have equally banned Hookah in the last one month are Iran, India, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, Turkey, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
“There is therefore, no other time than at this period of the pandemic for smokers to quit and for the government to enforce strict adherence to the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act, 2015. In fact, an outright ban of the sale of cigarettes, vaping products, and Shisha and the likes will be a step in the right direction during this period, said ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi.
This last weekend, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that vaping may leave users with underlying health conditions thereby putting them at higher risk of serious complications if they contract COVID-19. Experts from the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Secretary of State of the United Kingdom also say that smokers will suffer worse impacts if they contract the virus.
ERA/FoEN, while also reacting to media reports that Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde is already in talks with some companies, including the British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) to make donations to tackle the spread of the pandemic in the state, said any donation from BATN or their front groups are “Greek Gifts”.
These “Greek Gifts” are ultimately targeted at compromising public officials, weakening heath systems and positioning the tobacco industry as a credible stakeholder in public health policy.
ERA/FoEN expressed sadness that Governor Makinde is making overtures to a company that is reported to have flagrantly flouted government directives on gatherings involving many people when it refused to shut down its production lines, putting its factory staff at risk.
Rather than shut down production and protect lives, media reports say a boss of BAT West Africa allegedly sent a message to staff saying: “I would like to particularly thank and pay tribute to both our heroes in the factory who are keeping production going and our Field Force that are using all their ingenuity and track relationships to keep the supply chain intact as restrictions mount.”
“This company has demonstrated sheer recklessness for the well-being of their staff and demonstrating that it puts profits above the lives of its staff; this company should be under investigation. This has further proven that as recommended in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s Article 5.3 which Nigeria is a Party to, it can never and should never be seen or accepted as a stakeholder in tackling public health problems”. Oluwafemi counseled.