Before the tobacco bill takes effect

Choice they say is sacred and at the same time has its consequences. One person’s choice of activity may not appeal to a certain group, even when he is exercising his own legal rights.

The perceived and often documented harmful effects of cigarettes do not have uniform effects on all smokers, just in the same way alcohol does not have the same effect on people. One major killer, often with its own documented effects on health, equally with the same magnitude of myriad effects is sugar, fat and cholesterol.

While this alone is up for a lot of debate, it is quite clear from huge amounts of empirical data, studies and patient records that the health complications from consuming sugars causes death. It has also been established that excessive consumption of alcohol leads to sickness and death. In the case of fatty foods, there is the same consensus. Heart ailments, cholesterol, clogged arteries, cancer exposure and high risk, and then death.

If all these indulgements of modern lifestyles cause grievous bodily harm, with the information so well known, analysed and documented, it seems a form of institutional hypocrisy just to pick on one industry as the poster boy for marginalising and limiting that freedom of choice.

The alcohol industry still advertises its death dealing potions of alcoholic drinks, where in most cases, alcohol is consumed recreationally. Direct deaths related to alcohol consumption, sometimes even within hours of ingestion, far outweigh those of tobacco.

Related deaths such as alcohol related domestic violence, accidents, and drunk driving accidents, all within hours of intoxication, far outweigh those of tobacco, whose effects appear years, and as the norm is, decades after consumption.

Even then, it must be stated that it is after a regular regimen of consumption over years do these symptoms become manifest.

Take the so-called junk food phenomenon. No restriction is placed legislatively on what food should be consumed however, fatty foods and their effects on health create direct costs to healthcare and patients in the same manner as smoking does, over the long term. Till date, there has not been any crackdown, restriction, ban or other such activity on high cholesterol, fatty and high sugar foods.

On his part, Ahmed Mustpha, a tractor owner who earns his living from tilling tobacco farms, said it is even far more worrying when you consider that these products contribute to the economy in terms of creating alternative avenues of development for the local economy through its ecosystem; jobs through advertising, distribution, sales and manufacturing.

These additions to value of services and goods are what we need to keep local service based industries running, and tobacco has paid its dues in that respect, not even to mention all the excise taxes that are charged at the highest premiums for tobacco based products.

According to Mr. Emmanuel Egbeyale, a tobacco farmer in Oke-Ogun, Iseyin, Oyo State said: “The tobacco industry does not deserve this kind of discrimination. The tobacco industry is ruled purely by recreation and choice, and consumer information in a free country is what drives choice.

Whereas information on retail packs is dominated by warnings, it is counter to the effort therefore if tobacco advertising is so restricted. Legal limits as to the definition of places to smoke, especially where it does not inconvenience non-smokers is discriminatory on the smoker’s right to exercise his liberties without endangering others.”

Imoh Odiaka, a tobacco distributor, in his opinion said that tobacco has already suffered the sins for all kinds of accusations. Limiting the freedom of smokers is the last straw. Limiting their right to choice by stripping advertisements will not stop people smoking.

The allure of the activity appeals still to some. They are part of our society, and are as law abiding as us all. They indulge, knowingly in an activity that causes them harm, just like drinking sugar-heavy fizzy drinks puts us in peril, just like consuming hard liquor puts us in peril.

In the statement of Justin Akunba, Managing Director of Akunba and Sons, he said that governments and lawmakers should know this, and be humane to the smoker, and the industry he relies on to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life. Democracy means the free will to choose. Let the smoker be allowed his freedom.


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