By Tobias Lengs Dapam
As Nigeria joined the rest of the world in marking World No Tobacco Day, the Chairman of Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), Akinbode Oluwafemi, said Nigeria needs food and not tobacco.
Akinbode, who stated this on Thursday in Abuja, said the day is set aside by the World Health Organization to raise awareness on the deadly effects of tobacco use.
Represented by the Pogramme Officer NTCA, Chibuike Nwokorie, the chairman said, “With over 8 million people dying from tobacco consumption worldwide. The commemoration is a solemn event
targeted at bringing to the fore millions of lives lost to tobacco use and the many people around the world managing debilitating ailments brought on by tobacco use.
“We Need Food, Not Tobacco The theme for this year’s commemoration; we need food, not tobacco, draws the attention of the world to the dangers of tobacco farming. The World Health Organization estimates that 3.5 million hectares of land is used for tobacco farming globally.
In characteristic fashion, the tobacco industry paints a picture of economic prosperity among tobacco farmers, however, in reality, tobacco farmers are poor. In Nigeria, farmers who have invested many years growing tobacco continue to live in poverty.”
He said while tobacco cultivation has declined in the developed world in recent years, it has picked up in low-income countries in Africa, majorly in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia.
He said in Nigeria, tobacco cultivation occurs primarily in Kwara, Osun, Oyo and Sokoto states.
“During tobacco cultivation and curing, wet tobacco leaves produce nicotine and other toxins that are absorbed into the body. This causes green tobacco sickness among farmers. Tobacco growers are also known to suffer from respiratory and neurological disorders due to exposure to tobacco leaves.
“According to the United Nations, over 25 million people in Nigeria are facing hunger, and globally, that figure stands at over 300 million people.
“ In the face of this looming food insecurity, large portions of arable lands are turning into barren wastelands from tobacco cultivation.
“Article 17 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control encourages parties to promote economically viable and sustainable alternatives to tobacco farmers. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is responsible for championing this objective.
“However, it is unclear how much land is used for tobacco farming in Nigeria. This critical data gap makes it difficult to identify and plan interventions for tobacco farmers.
We therefore call on the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to make known the extent of tobacco farming in Nigeria. It is also important that the Ministry rolls out plans to help tobacco farmers transition to nutritious and healthy crops such as maize,
cassava, guinea corn and even livestock.
“We note that very little can be achieved if every government agency works in a silo, and poor coordination among agencies is a recipe for poor public health. Therefore, the Federal Ministry of Health, Standards Organization of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, and all agencies saddled with the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act must synergize, share information and resources and work cohesively for the implementation of these laws.
“Finally, to Your Excellency Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we congratulate you on your recent inauguration as President of Nigeria. It is important that as you begin your administration, you are made aware of several burning tobacco control issues. You have promised Nigerians that you will hit the ground running, and we want to charge you to apply the same energy to tobacco control.
“Albeit with challenges, we achieved the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. We also achieved the National Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019, during Former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
What is left is yours to do, and you can champion the strengthening and implementation of our tobacco control laws to protect the health of all Nigerians in keeping faith with the oath you solemnly swore on May 29th, 2023. “