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‘We must protect our young children from the allure of flavoured cigarettes’

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Wale

The influx of flavoured cigarettes into the Nigerian market, which are mostly targeted at luring children, has again laid bare the country’s lack of implementation of the Tobacco Act passed into law in 2015. In this interview with Wale Kayode, Director of Operations, Narconon Nigeria Initiative, a civil society organisation with focus on the eradication of problems of drug and alcohol abuse in Nigeria, spoke to DANIEL ANAZIA on the influx of flavoured cigarette and its socio-economic consequences, stressing the need to clamp down on the illicit import of this contraband which does not only induce youth smoking, but also denies the government of its legitimate revenue

There have been concerted efforts by governments and key industry stakeholders to ultimately quell the rising tide of flavoured cigarettes, especially considering the fact that these products are fast penetrating the nooks and crannies of the Nigerian market? How will you rate the progress so far, and what can be done better?
There has been some progress by the relevant authorities quite all right. However, is it enough to protect our young ones? No, I must say not enough. I remember there was a media campaign by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in the past, which was a step in the right direction. However, there has been quiet on that front. Now I can’t speak for them and if it is a case of funds, obviously more has to be done.

Our position is there is a stronger voice in my counterparts, who are critical stakeholders in this discourse – the anti-tobacco groups. They have a critical role to play in supporting the efforts of the government in curbing the influx of flavoured cigarettes in the country. But it seems quite obvious from their recent activities that they tend to chase shadows by not directing their energies to areas where their impact can be felt most. They have access to different levels of government, who are willing to support them fully on their advocacy platforms. Rather than join forces with organisations like Youth Smoking Prevention campaign organisations to fight youth’s access to smoking, particularly unapproved brands of flavoured cigarettes, they primarily focus on maligning and destroying indigenous legitimate tobacco industries, which we can hold accountable.

Various reports have shown that illicit flavoured cigarettes are being smuggled into the Nigerian market through neighbouring countries, especially the land borders where they are usually hidden inside other products and transported. What do you think can be done to permanently address this issue?
As an organisation that is focused on the public health of Nigerians, we are always quite concerned about the amount of illicit products our contemporaries never discuss or advocate about. Globally, a treaty had to be created to focus on this issue because of its links to terrorism, trafficking and other forms of organised crime. Bringing it closer to home, we have porous borders and not much attention is paid to it on the impact and possible link to our security issues. It is also easily accessible and creating the perfect platform for youths who we should be advocating to protect even more from a lifetime of addiction. Our recommendation is that since the greater challenge is restricting youth access to tobacco products and illegal trade and cigarette consumption can’t be banned, it is only proper for Nigeria to implement and promote policies that will ensure that the tobacco industry can be held accountable if well regulated so that the intended end-view is achieved, while at the same time the country benefits from localising production.

These flavoured cigarettes come in different flavours — strawberry, cherry, apple, among others. These products, according to reports, are dangerous innovations manufactured with sweet fruity flavours that have a powerful appeal on the under-aged. In view of its inherent dangers, what measures will you advise governments to take in protecting the overall interest of the youth, including the general public?
The question is, young people in today’s world enjoy having options available to them and these options unfortunately include flavoured cigarettes. But what exactly are flavoured cigarettes? Flavoured cigarettes are a type of contraband cigarette and illicit trade products according to Nigeria’s standards and they are tobacco products manufactured with sweet fruity flavours that have a powerful appeal to children or anyone below 18 according to our laws and completely mask the smell of tobacco. They are, no doubt, innovative but have a harmful approach to it. When we were growing up, if you smoked cigarettes, you looked for ways to mask the smell. With this, you can use the product and not have to worry about that any longer as a child. The spread has become quite widespread across Nigeria and it is quite worrisome because that is another epidemic waiting to happen.

There are concerns by some NGOs, including yours on the paradigm shift in consumer demand for conventional tobacco products to flavoured cigarettes due to the enriched flavours contained in these sweetened cigarettes. Does this have any socio-economic implications, and what is the position of the newly enacted tobacco control act (NTCA) on this?
The Tobacco Control Act passed in 2015 is very clear on this. ‘Ensure tobacco or tobacco products are not designed in a way that makes them more addictive or attractive, especially to persons who are below 18 years of age, or in ways that that may undercut any of the stated objectives of this act’. Let’s make this practical. You import cherry or orange flavoured cigarettes. Who takes candy more? Is that not the youth? It is even more interesting the flavoured cigarettes are imported. They are imported because the local law does not want our youths addicted.


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