Like previous experiences, the yuletide this year is filled with electric in the air and an uptick in fun and entertainment activities. Even with the prevailing inflation and insecurities that have made local travel by road expensive and hazardous, many Nigerians have opted to celebrate in the best possible way in their present locations. For those who have chosen to stay indoors, watching Nigerian movies has proven worthwhile in terms of innovative content that keeps viewers glued to their screens. Nigerian movies are enjoyed even beyond Nigeria’s shores and the local industry churns out as much as 2,500 annually.
Unfortunately, the tobacco industry is also conscious of this fact and understands the bigger picture – movies can make tobacco merchants reach targets that would have eluded their reach because of a growing number of countries that have put in place comprehensive bans on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS). In Nigeria, such a ban is contained in the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 and its Regulations which came into force in 2019.
The motives behind the tobacco industry attraction to movies is explained in detail by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the guiding principles of Article 13 of its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The WHO noted that scientific evidence reveals that youth exposed to tobacco advertising hold positive attitudes towards tobacco use. The same industry spends billions of dollars each year to market their lethal products, using a mix of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship tactics to directly affect tobacco use and attitudes related to tobacco.
This evidence compelled the WHO to call for a comprehensive ban on TAPS. Despite this, the industry continues to innovate to capture the lungs of the youths, and it’s no surprise that movies have become their playground. Several Nigeria research also confirm this. A survey of 10 popular Nollywood movies carried out by concerned activists in 2007 showed that smoking was prevalent and glamourized. It also found subtle brand placements in the movies.
In 2019 a similar study showed that the industry has escalated its footprints in the movie industry. This time around, a total of 36 films chosen from three major ethnic groups – Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo – were screened. The genre of the films studied were the most popular among the youth and young adults and shockingly had 34 tobacco footage/paraphernalia in the background. The findings are startling when viewed from the lens of Nigeria’s population that is largely young and within the impressionable category.
It is on this premise that plans by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) to enforce the ban on TAPS must now be expedited. Section 15 (6) of the National Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019 provides the agency the enforcement powers where it states that “any display or depiction of tobacco or tobacco use in a work of art, video, music, literature, or any other means, that falls, in the same scene or page, must display in bold easy to read for the warning; “TOBACCO USE CAUSES FATAL LUNG CANCER AND OTHER DANGEROUS EFFECTS ON THE HEALTH OF USERS AND THOSE CLOSE TO THEM”
But movies are not the only platforms through which the tobacco industry woos replacement smokers; they now recruit influencers to produce comedy skits or fund social media engagements and interactions targeting impressionable youths.
In view of these realities, there is no better time than now for the NFVCB and other stakeholders to muster the courage and act decisively to rid the entertainment sector of the brazen glamourization of smoking. Further delay means more lungs for the industry to capture and a minus for public health.
James Idiang writes from Calabar