Towards smoke-free Nigeria: Concerns mount over cigarette, tobacco addiction
Globally, over 1.3 billion people engage in cigarette smoking. From this figure, Nigeria accounts for 14 per cent of adult smokers, a development that has heightened serious concern about the growing addiction in the country.
According to reports, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people yearly globally. More than seven million of these deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while about 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoking.
Sadly, in many countries, progress in reducing the prevalence of smoking has not kept pace with population increases, resulting in illnesses and impoverishment. The most comprehensive data on global trends in smoking highlights its enormous global health toll.
To address this problem, experts have intensified advocacy across countries on the need to embrace smoke-free products like e-cigarette and Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs), as better alternatives for adult smokers than combustible smoking.
Currently, Philip Morris International (PMI) is set to storm the Nigerian market with varieties of improved tobacco products, to end combustible smoking, in order to have a smoke-free future that encourages sustainable products.
According to PMI, the purpose of the move is to reduce smoke-related diseases associated with over 6,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke with 100 being classified as intoxicants.
Speaking during a media conference in Lagos, PMI’s Head of Scientific Engagement for Middle East Africa, Ignacio Gonzalex-Suarez, noted that the firm, which has been operating in Europe and other continents, has decided to storm the African market.
He said their product, which is aimed at providing alternatives to smokers, shall be made available to the Nigerian market when all necessary processes and procedures with regulatory agencies, as well as public enlightenment, are met.
He said: “It is the burning of tobacco that produces the vast majority of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke. By eliminating the burning –as is the case with these smoke-free products-the levels of harmful chemicals generated can be significantly reduced.
“E-cigarettes heat liquids that can be flavoured, and usually contain nicotine derived from tobacco. On the other hand, HTPs use tobacco heated to a controlled temperature, below the level required for burning. This releases an aerosol that is then inhaled. The aerosol includes nicotine, which is naturally present in tobacco, and other flavors.
“Different kinds of smoke-free alternatives suit different people. A range of smoke-free alternatives can help all smokers to find and switch to an alternative that they find satisfying.”
While describing e-cigarettes as part of its portfolio of reduced-risk products, Suarez said the company has invested $8.1b in the development, scientific substantiation, manufacturing, commercialisation and continuous innovation for smoke-free products. The investment includes the expansion of its first Greenfield factory in Italy, as well as the conversion of existing factories in Greece, Russia, Romania, Korea and two additional production lines in Switzerland.
Though launched in 65 countries, the e-cigarette is only available in South Africa in entire Sub-Saharan Africa, just as the company is waiting for approval from the Federal Government for the green light to introduce the product to Nigeria.
“The essence of our product is not to stop smoking but to reduce the risk involved with new products with less toxicant. The best thing in tobacco management is cessation, but our products through a six months trial showed all co-primary endpoints shift in the same direction as when a user embraces cessation.
“For those who are already smoking, we have varieties of Electronic Heated Tobacco Product (EHTPs) without combustion and less nicotine and intoxicants that are globally competing in the international markets, “he noted.
The Director External Affairs, Pan African Enterprise, PMI Duty-Free, MEA, Ms. Mojisola Akpata, said if the Federal Government gives its nod, positive public health outcomes can be significantly accelerated in the country. “Scientifically, substantiated products can switch smokers out of cigarettes faster than restrictive measures.
Akpata, who noted that separate regulatory categories established e-cigarettes and cigarette products, said, “Nigeria is in the process of creating enabling policies and standards and a regulatory environment for new tobacco and nicotine products. The product is already in South Africa, but we are waiting for the Federal Government to give us the go-ahead.”
She said, “We are advocating for a situation where regulatory agencies in the country will engage in post-market surveillance as we want the right standards and policy for the industry we operate in. With the right regulatory encouragement and support from civil society, we can deliver a smoke-free future more quickly than relying on traditional measures alone.”
The Director External Affairs, PMI, Harouna LY, said PMI is the only company producing combustible cigarettes that is completely moving to e-cigarette production, “but there is a need for the environment and political will. We are in the business of finding a smoke-free environment. If we stopped producing cigarettes today, it won’t stop smoking. We plan to reduce our combustible cigarettes and produce more smoke-free cigarettes.”
“80 per cent of our revenue is from combustible cigarettes, which means we are not supporting it. We are going the way of e-cigarette. Our next move is to convert our factories of combustible cigarettes to factories of e-cigarette. Our target is to ensure that every smoker across the globe switches to e-cigarette by 2030.
“We have remained committed to promoting a smoke-free future, to discourage people from smoking combustible products, especially those within the legal age allowed by law. We need to find the enabling environment to do so through taxation, policy and standardisation, as we are in the business of finding alternatives for the one billion people and if there is no right stimulus the journey cannot be achieved.”