A cardinal factor of modern life is the adoption of constitutions by nations of the world and one of the reasons for adopting same is to put in proper perspective ways and manners of peaceful co-existence among the citizens of the particular country. One basic inclusion in such constitution is human rights and freedom of choice. Even though those rights are enshrined in the constitution, the authors are mindful of the need to restrict the exercise of those rights to persons of certain age and above.
One of such rights is the universal adult suffrage which empowers an adult of nothing less than 18 years old the right to vote in an election so long as the person is of sound state of mind. This is premised on the thought process that at that age and baring any mental deficiency, the person is capable of making an informed and reasonable judgment. The same is the issue of alcoholic beverage and tobacco consumption in many countries Nigeria inclusive.
It is against the premise that this writer attempts an evaluation of the discharge of the individual’s freedom of choice and restrictions of tobacco consumption in particularly in Nigeria.
The Nigerian media space has been awash with anti-tobacco stories of late. While some of the articles were directly judgmental, others merely play up the effects of tobacco use on the user and those who inhale smokes exhaled by smokers. Some of the news report also echoed the voice of supposed advocates of anti-tobacco use.
The latest of these news reports was founded on the survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics. The survey attempted to give the number of Nigerian adults who use tobacco products. Though the survey is an effort to fill a void where no statistics are available, some of the results of the study are in itself questionable, hence the study in itself may remain a simple advocacy tool that can’t be trusted for providing accurate facts. Parts of the report which needs further explanation is that which claimed that “While at least one in every five adults polled saw a cigarette advert outside stores and sporting events". For those who are conversant with the tobacco industry and its advocacy one of the things that they will know is that the industry especially in Nigeria do not advertise at sporting events. With the wave of tobacco regulation growing globally, advertisement in the industry has really become more restricted with an overriding absence especially in sporting events. Hence this aspect of the report has to be checked since it has the potential of making the document inaccurate. In fact the APCON regulation to which many of the tobacco industries in Nigeria has voluntarily subjected themselves to have guided strict compliance in this regard.
While the push for public health must be sort, we should, however, avoid sensationalism for the simple sake of advocacy. It is also pertinent to do a reality check on the anti-tobacco measures and laws that several countries have adopted over the years with a view to ascertain if it is achieving results or not. It is a fact that countries that have adopted harsh regulations as anti-tobacco laws are indeed feeling the effect of increased tobacco smuggling leading to astronomical rise in the sales and purchase of illegal products and the funding of criminal groups. Countries such as Ireland, Canada and South Africa are to name a few. While on the other hand countries that have adopted moderate laws which are well balanced and applicable and enforceable locally have little incidence of smuggling, examples are Ghana and Russia.
If the report of the survey is right that “Nigeria has a relatively low rate of tobacco smoking compared to other countries, then we must safe guard this by having the appropriate laws that is suited to our local context in place and not simply copy and paste one that will cause more of a problem than anything else.
Giving Nigeria’s peculiarity, coupled with the physiological make-up of the human mind to crave that which is shrouded in mystery, the chances that over flogging the issue, as some anti-tobacco campaigners are clamoring for are high. It does make some sense then to posit that in order not to regress in the tobacco use roll back campaign, the anti-tobacco use advocates and the government in particular should thread softly.
The reality of the modern world is that stringent laws inexplicably grow interests in the particular habit that it seeks to discourage. The more the law around a practice gets stringent, the more the curiosity around it grows, leading to increased indulgence in the act. We should be mindful of this in formulating more and more stringent anti-tobacco legislation.