International Women’s Day: Tobacco-free Women Attain Their Full Potentials

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By Oluchi Joy Robert

The United Nations (UN) commemoration of the International Women’s Day began in 1975.  In 1977, the UN General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN’s Day for women’s rights and world peace. Ever since, this event has taken center stage globally, and is marked with the celebration and honouring of women’s achievements, exploring ways for improvement, collaborating, and encouraging inclusiveness across board for all women.

The theme for the 2021 commemoration is #ChooseToChallenge. The theme enjoins all to understand the need to call out gender bias and inequality against women the world over.

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this event, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) believes that the greatest gift that the Nigerian government can give to the womenfolk on this occasion is to ensure full and effective implementation of existing tobacco control laws in Nigeria to protect the health of the girl-child and women.

Tobacco addiction is one of the mitigating factors against women actualizing their fullest potentials. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) report on Global Issues Women and Tobacco released in 2003, the global smoking rate for women and girls is expected to rise to 20 percent by 2025 if governments do not take appropriate actions to reduce smoking as tobacco companies aggressively market to women. Women take up smoking for reasons different from men.

The tobacco industry has explored these differing reasons through linking smoking to glamour, stress relief and weight loss, among other false factors. The tobacco industry continues to associate smoking with modernity hence suggesting that it empowers women, gives them freedom and accessibility to contemporary styles and value.

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Women constitute a large percentage of an untapped market opportunity and prospective target for tobacco sales growth. Tobacco use negatively affects every single organ in the human system. For women, it is particularly worrying because women who smoke are exposed to greater risks of reproductive health challenges, various forms of gynaecological cancer and other types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and lung diseases. Tobacco use has adverse effects on women through all stages of their lives.

According to Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP), since the 1960s, the tobacco industry has geared richly-funded marketing campaigns towards women through advertisements that draw on gender stereotypes and falsely link tobacco use to concepts of beauty, slimness, sophistication, prestige, emancipation, freedom, romance, and sexual allure.

In a factsheet released to coincide with the 2021 International Women’s Day, STOP stated that even today, tobacco companies use the same strategies that they’ve used from a long time ago, to market their products, including new ones, on all platforms available including social media through women influencers. It reveals that 200 million of the world’s one billion smokers are women and that two million women, mostly from low- and middle-income countries die from tobacco use every year.

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Going by this, effective tobacco control strategies must target women uniquely. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco is still the leading most preventable cause of death. While over 8 million people die annually from tobacco-related smoke, most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where Nigeria falls. Because Tobacco is still the most leading cause of preventable death globally, the WHO recommends strategies that will aid reduction in tobacco use.

They include tobacco tax increase, awareness creation on the health risks of smoking, ban of smoking in public places, smoke-free work environments and total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

While the tobacco industry keeps introducing different flavors and forms of its products to make them more difficult for smokers to quit, they have also adopted the entertainment space as a more viable way of enhancing the glamorization of tobacco and its accessibility. The tobacco industry subtly exploits Nollywood to promote Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) in movies and music videos. Because it has been established that there is a correlation between smoking scenes in movies and initiation into smoking by adolescents, the girl-child not exempted; the significant impact of onscreen smoking is serious and calls for real concern as adolescents are negatively affected by this.

The Nigerian government must make deliberate efforts to curb smoking scenes in movies. The National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Regulations 2019 both contain provisions prohibiting TAPS in movies and entertainment with some exceptions.

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These provisions when taken together:
•         Ban all paid depiction of tobacco products or tobacco use in the movies and music videos.
•         Ban any unpaid depiction of tobacco products or tobacco use, other than for certain journalistic, artistic, historical, social, or political exceptions set out in Section 12(4) of the Act.
•         Require a warning to be displayed in any depiction of tobacco products or tobacco use in movies or music videos that falls under the above exceptions.
As we mark International Women’s Day 2021, Nigeria must choose to challenge the dynamics of tobacco products marketing by the tobacco industry through the full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Regulations 2019. Making this happen will lead to a decline in women’s and girls’ tobacco use.

  • The influence of the tobacco industry’s distorted portrayal of smoking as a symbol of female empowerment is irrefutable. It is up to us to change the narrative of who a truly empowered woman is and genuinely portray freedom from tobacco as the right of every woman and girl. So far, crucial steps have already been taken, but much more needs to be done as all sectors benefit when women are empowered. There must be a synergy of individual and collective efforts if there must be any chance of a sustainable future for women and girls.

    NB: Oluchi Joy Robert works with Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa

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