The perspectives of tobacco debate, for and against

By Moses Obaloju

A couple of months ago, l sat at a parents’ forum where we were regaled with stories told from a young person’s perspective, whilst we sat with our mouths wide open in simplistic amazement at how young people see things and understand them, it occurred to me that what we have playing out were two cultures tugging side by side: the older generation saw and understood issues from one perspective and the younger generation from another. The question now is which perspective is right?

The industry: its legality, rights and obligations: This is the case with the issues related to the Tobacco industry. As an educated smoker, l am aware of the issues associated with smoking including the long drawn regulation debate which is playing out in Nigeria.

There are two sides to the tobacco debate story, hence two different perspectives.

Governments worldwide while also acknowledging the fact that tobacco is injurious to health have deemed it common sense to legalise the product. Therefore, the industry as the endorsement of governments and are legal entities who have rights and obligations.

This is a reality which the anti-tobacco activists, however, find hard to accept despite the legality of the industry.

Smoking, regulation and smuggling: The contention between the anti-tobacco groups and the industry is not the effect of smoking; it is the form of regulation that should guide the act of smoking. The groups on one hand believe that certain forms of regulation will effectively reduce consumption and supply.

From where l stand, the tobacco industry is part of the solution. Many tobacco lobbying groups have attacked the so called self-regulation of the industry, though it is sometimes the only form of reasonable regulation that actually exists to serve the interests of the consumer who is addicted to the so called pleasures of smoking. Looking critically at Nigeria, the industry’s voluntary adherence to APCON’s (Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria) advertising guidelines on the huge bill boards, taking the mention of tobacco brands off the face of our national TV and reducing their consumer events from those similar to the alcohol and telecoms industries to strictly by invitation events to consumers only is self-regulation that has helped in the face of almost none. The “18 plus only” signs and the inclusion of regulatory agencies in driving standardisation plus the closely coveted relationship between them and their supply chain partners are things that the industry actively drove and established.

The industry is needed and is also part of the solution for the consumer in the future., they have been the solution to self-regulating the industry where the law was generally very weak and this is buttressed by such reports as the as the GATS report and a research conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Christopher Murray who is director of IHME and published by BBC online.

The alternative: I belong to the group of consumers that applaud the e-cigarette invention and look forward to many more innovations from the industry that will provide us with healthier and pleasurable options.

A well-known anti-tobacco group in the United kingdom; Action on smoking and health (ASH) has this to say: “ ASH’s position on e-cigarettes:

ASH supports a harm reduction approach to tobacco, that is, we recognise that whilst efforts to help people stop smoking should remain a priority, many people either do not wish to stop smoking or find it very hard to do so. For this group, we believe that products should be made available that deliver nicotine in a safe way, without the harmful components found in tobacco. Most of the diseases associated with smoking are caused by inhaling smoke which contains thousands of toxic chemicals. By contrast, nicotine is relatively safe. Therefore, e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without the harmful toxins found in tobacco smoke, are likely to be a safer alternative to smoking. In addition, e-cigarettes reduce secondhand smoke exposure since they do not produce smoke. It should be noted, however, that ASH does not provide commercial product endorsement. “

I, firmly believe this to be true, fans of soft drinks, beverage products which are also coming under increasing global attacks by activists, will tell you that they are also aware of the health implications of the things that they consume, but are however, often reluctant to give it up.

The pressure groups: The anti-tobacco groups on the other hand are pressure groups. We do need pressure groups. They exist to make these companies do what they have to do and not continue as status quo. However, in many developing countries they have been found to be more self-centred than anything else.

I look forward to a smooth conclusion of the tobacco control bill, and sincerely hope that it does not die with this current administration or legislature but is moved on speedily to Mr President who also quickly assents to it this time around.

Moses Obaloju, resides in Lagos


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