The recent convergence of movie practitioners on the auspices of Nollywood in Abuja to discuss the dangers of smoking in movies is indicative that the Nigerian movie industry is now grasping the reality of the threat smoking in films pose to children and the uninformed.
While the National Tobacco Control Act of 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations of 2019 contain provisions prohibiting tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the enforcement of the policy has been largely restricted to and assumed to refer only to outdoor advertising and ads on radio, TV, and newspapers.
While our attention was fixated on those platforms, the tobacco industry steadily ensnared the movie industry and digital media platforms which have become new frontiers for wooing young smokers.
A Study titled: Portrayal of Smoking in Nigerian Online Videos: A Medium for Tobacco Advertising and Promotion, conducted in 2014 by Adegoke Adelufosi showed that smoking and smoking imagery are prevalent in Nollywood.
In the study, “26 of 60 online videos (representing 43.4 percent) assessed had scenes with cigarette smoking imageries… There were scenes of the main protagonists smoking in 73.2 percent of the films with scenes of female protagonists smoking (78.9 per cent) more than the male protagonists (21.1 percent)…”
More recent research by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in 2020 showed that out of 36 movies it screened in total, picked from English, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba genres, twenty-two had scenes which glamourized smoking. Ten of the smoking scenes were unnecessary to depict the character of the actor or buttress the message being passed, while thirteen clearly depicted cigarette packs with some with brand names evidently visible.
The convergence in Abuja was targeted at addressing these challenges and charting the course for the future which they believe should start with a voluntary code of practice for movie practitioners.
Regulation of smoking in movies is not new. In 1997 the US banned paid product placement of tobacco in films. India followed suit in 2005, insisting that such scenes glamorize the use of cigarettes. Under India’s smoking ban, smoking scenes in any movie is prohibited, including any old or historical movies where smoking was necessary to make the depiction accurate. Many countries have introduced similar stringent measures. The UK for instance, has a ban on smoking in cinemas and on set.
Research has shown that young people who are exposed to on-screen smoking are more likely to start smoking than those who do not see smoking in movies. This can have serious health implications, such as increased rates of lung cancer and heart disease, among others. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.
Global bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognise the need to regulate smoking in the film industry. Dr. Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s former Director for the Department of Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), in 2016 said: “With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions.”
The quest to make Nollywood go smoke-free will be a landmark feat no doubt. Nollywood is estimated to be worth around $5.2 billion and produces over 2,600 movies annually. It has grown significantly in recent years and is now recognised globally for its impact on African cinema and the entertainment industry. It is on this premise that the content that Nigeria produces matters. It is important to know that the kind of regulation that Nigeria puts in place to sanitise the contents that hit the screens in homes also matter.
By enacting the NTC Act 2015 and Regulation in 2019 the Nigerian government took a significant step forward in protecting public health but pending when the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) will begin the enforcement, practitioners must work towards making films that portray non-smoking behaviours as the norm.
With this, they will not only be partnering with the government for the success of the policy but will also be putting Nigeria on the map of countries that are serious about addressing the tobacco menace.