By Paul Ashibel
Films are a preferred source of entertainment and learning for many, and audiences are often quick to mirror in their daily lives what they watch on screen.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which Nigeria ratified on October 20, 2005, requires parties to implement a comprehensive ban on Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS) in the spirit and letter of Article 13 of the treaty.
And in 2015, Nigeria enacted her National Tobacco Control Act (NTC Act, 2015) with provisions banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in any way, shape or form.
However, regardless of how comprehensive and carefully crafted a law is, the power of any law is in its enforcement, and without action, laws are really only words on paper. The jaundiced state of enforcement in Nigeria has popularised the opinion that Nigeria’s policy challenge does not lie in the lack of laws, rather, it lies in the lack of will to execute the laws.
TAPS is strongly frowned upon by Nigeria’s tobacco control laws, especially in relation to smoking in movies. Even in the light of the NTC Act posturing, tobacco glamourisation on screen has been on the rise.
The Nigerian movie industry also known as Nollywood is an entertainment giant feeding audiences in Nigeria and around the world. The industry is thus highly regarded and plays a fair role in shaping popular culture.
The power to influence thoughts and actions has opened the industry to diverse interests, and the tobacco industry exploits this by encouraging the depiction of smoking in movies–a subtle marketing art to initiate young and impressionable Nigerians into smoking.
Video streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Showmax have exacerbated the problem by listing movies with heavy tobacco glamourisation and violating local tobacco control laws. Beyond advertising conventional cigarettes, the videos on these streaming sites are introducing young people to several new tobacco products including smokeless tobacco, vapes and shisha.
The signs continue to suggest that the meteoric rise in the use of shisha in the country is not unconnected to the on-screen portrayal of the health wrecking habit as trendy and cool.
A generation of young people who consume these videos delivered to their TV screens and conveniently to their mobile phones on-the-go, unknown to them are conditioned and shuffled down an initiation pipe–with suggestions and subtle cues nudging them to adopt tobacco use in diverse forms.
This conditioning has become alarmingly high, and it is now pertinent that the Federal Government, through the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) stop the unholy initiation ceremony targeted at the youth by enforcing the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship on screen and other platforms that are used to engage them.
Ashibel of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) writes from Abuja