Goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ‘Good Health & Well Being,’ targets include the substantial reduction in “number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.” Tobacco smoke constitutes one of the harmful substances that pollute our atmosphere. With about 250 hazardous chemicals including carbon monoxide and tar, tobacco smoke and usage contributes the most to all cancers.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the world. According to estimates, low and middle-income countries, such as my country, Nigeria, would bear the brunt. Nigeria already has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa with about 10,000 deaths occurring annually.
Where there is the political will…
Nigeria is battling for its air. On the 31st of May 2017, Health Minister Isaac Adewole, a professor and medical oncologist, issued a set of directives for the implementation and enforcement of 9 provisions contained in the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act of 2015.
Such political will is a necessity if we want to achieve any of the goals. On the tobacco control front, Nigeria is lucky; the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, while serving as Lagos state Attorney General, sued Big Tobacco companies including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco to recoup 2.5 trillion naira (almost US$8 billion) spent on treating people who became sick as a result of using tobacco products. Civil society and citizens however also have a role in ensuring that political will for the SDGs are sustained by strong-arming candidates into making goals specific commitments as part of their electoral agenda.
Digital Advocacy, People Power and Change
Enforcing the provisions of the Tobacco Control Act poses even more challenges. Enforcement Officers, including the Nigerian Police Force and Civil Defence Corps, have not been trained. And when they would be trained, they are just not enough to ensure desired levels of compliance. The case for citizen, civil society, and government collaboration to implement the law has never been stronger and soon a campaign would be launched.
The organization, I lead — Gatefield Impact –with the support of DC based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids joined forces with Nigeria’s health ministry to develop a campaign to educate, inform and mobilize public support for the tobacco control provisions.
Among these provisions include the ban of sales of cigarettes to under-aged persons; ban of sale of cigarette in single sticks and a ban of smoking in public places. Our #ClearTheAir campaign was hinged on this — targeting second hand smokers through the use of creative advertising content and messaging on social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Non-direct smokers were informed on the impact of second hand smoke to their health and the relevant provisions to their health. The results have been enormous.
So far, the messages have reached close to 3 million users on Twitter alone and an online challenge has successfully rallied information-armed advocates who have taken the action offline. These citizen advocates have conducted outreaches to target locations in the remotest and urban communities across all the zones of the country. They have been able to successfully inform, to mobilise resources and to implement some level of changes in behavior, attitudes and policy at various touch points.
While achieving the goals remains at the center, the people must be seen to rally behind and be at the forefront of it. And it doesn’t cost a lot!