What seemed like an insignificant issue in 2007 when tobacco control activists screened ten randomly selected movies and found out that the tobacco industry has been using Nollywood to promote tobacco smoking has grown into a mega monster.
A new research carried out by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in 2020 shows how Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa movies sold in the open market now glamourize tobacco use. In the study, thirty-six recent films were chosen from the three ethnic groups and all portrayed smoking as socially acceptable, desirable, and even classy.
Shocking as the findings are, they reinforce the World Health Organisation (WHO) position that movies and entertainment materials are the most veritable tools for transfer of ideas and promotion of alternative lifestyles.
The WHO is of the view that the youth, who are generally impressionable, are enticed by what they see and are initiated into tobacco products’ use through advertising and subliminal promotion of smoking scenes in movies, music videos and product placement. This development however threatens to worsen an already looming tobacco epidemic with as much as 8 million annual deaths especially in Low- and Medium-Income Countries (LMIC), because of tobacco.
One indisputable fact stands out: the tobacco industry has a history of creating misleading impressions of tobacco use and they continue to do so – unabated. Through movies and music videos the industry entices and addicts young persons. To confront this menace, the WHO requires parties to its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first public health treaty, which Nigeria has also signed and ratified, to implement a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.
The guidelines for implementation of Article 13 of the WHO-FCTC includes a statement that the depiction of tobacco use in films is a form of promotion that influences tobacco use, particularly by young people, and include specific measures, which are addressed more fully in the WHO report. Taking a cue from this, a host of countries have put in place measures to ensure their youth are protected from the industry’s manipulation of music and movies to market their lethal products. The United States (US) led the way when the Master Settlement Agreement was reached in 1998. Following that historic ruling, the movie and music industry started introducing policies to check the influence of the tobacco industry in the entertainment industry. India’s Central Board of Film Certification also banned tobacco product placement or showing of brand names. In Canada, similar policies are in place.
Unfortunately, even with the domestication of the WHO-FCTC through the National Tobacco Control Act which was passed in 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019, Nigeria’s enforcement of the laws has remained unimpressive.
The glamourization of smoking in movies, product placement and a host of other tactics are now the strategies that the ever-innovative tobacco industry exploits to reach the younger generation that they see as the market of the future. Beyond movies, the industry now exploits the growing love of reality shows by the youth to steer affairs in that sector. This startling development informed the July 16, 2021 petition by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa and the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) to the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) urging it to prohibit the glamourization of smoking in the Big Brother Naija show on the Pay TV and DSTV platforms. In the petition the two organisations noted thus: “The preponderance of smoking in Big Brother Naija has a huge impression on the youths at a time the government is working assiduously to reduce smoking initiation. It is even worse if smoking is allowed in the Big Brother Season 6 … at a period the country is battling with COVID -19 pandemic.” While reports that subsequently made the round had it that the NBC had called the organisers of the show to order, smoking on the show has continued unchecked.
It is in the light of this that public health groups are urging the NBC to sanction the organisers of the show for flouting the NBC directive and Nigeria’s national laws for still allowing smoking in the show collaborative effort by different agencies of government to enforce the nation’s tobacco control laws. Of particular importance is the need for the Federal Ministry of Health to work in concert with agencies such as the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other relevant bodies to ensure Nollywood movies do not contain scenes that glamourize or encourage children to take to smoking. It is urgent to protect our youth from the tobacco menace. The way to go is to block all channels that the tobacco industry exploits to get to them. Anything short of this is a disaster waiting to happen.Justina Amarachi writes from Owerri