Thursday, 21 November 2019

Pictures are best on advert materials to warn against smoking hazard, Researcher advocates

Dr. Ukam I. Ngwu 
18th November 2019

A Lecturer with the Department of Mass Communication, Cross River University of Technology, Calabar, Barr. Ukam I. Ngwu has called on the Federal Government and Ministry of Health to consider urgent introduction and implementation of pictorial / text combined health warnings on cigarette packs and other tobacco products nationwide in line with global best practices.

According him rotational pictures or graphics depicting the dangers of smoking and different health complications and deaths associated with tobacco use will more effectively communicate and discourage smoking in the country as well as help in addressing the impending illiteracy barriers among smoking and nonsmoking population as compared to the current ineffective Text-Only warnings in use.

The Scholar who have most of his research works and publications in the field of Health Communication, Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) and Development Communication lamented the continued used of Text-Only warnings on cigarette packs, despite the increased in cardiovascular, lung and respiratory diseases and several types of cancers linked to tobacco use in the country.

Ukam I. Ngwu, who recently defended his PhD in Mass Communication at the University of Uyo said his PhD research was on the 'Influence of Cigarette Packs Health Warnings on Residents of Cross State'. According to him, he was surprised to discover that all cigarette packages in use in the study area were having plain texted anti smoking warnings and did not accommodate large illiterate smoking population especially as the state was considered one of the educational less developed states in Nigeria.

 More disturbing was the inclusion of other captivating and smoking encouraging words by cigarette manufacturers on the packs like: 'Menthol Boost', 'Boost the Experience', 'Taste the Extra Menthol, Experience the unique rich and smooth taste of Rothmans. True to our highest quality standards for more than 125 years', etc which negates the intention of policy makers, creates conflict situation and dissonance among smokers, as such undermining and posing a great threat to the anti-smoking fight in the country.

The Learned Health Communicator bewail the country backwardness in efforts to dissuade and reduce tobacco use as well as exposure to same through second-hand smoking as compared to other climes like Canada, USA, India etc. This is however despite several warnings and researches on the health implications of tobacco. For instance, the World Lungs Foundation (2015) estimated about 1 billion deaths in 21st century due to smoking. Also the WHO (2008;2013) reported that about 5.4 million persons die annually as result of smoke related diseases and cancers. A ratio of one in every ten adult deaths and warn that if smoking pattern continues unabated, this figures may rise to 8million by 2030.

It is unfortunate that hitherto, manufacturers of tobacco products still use Text-Only warning that: "The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young" since inception in 1990 when the 'Tobacco Smoking (Control) Decree promulgated. This inscription is not only stale, ineffective but also deficient and incapable of discouraging the act of smoking among chain smokers.

The outcome of the research reveals that these health warnings are only effective in reducing smoking initiation among nonsmokers but not good enough to discourage smokers as most of them ignore it to engage more in the act of smoking in deviance and protest. 

Findings from research also reveal the poor implementation of the National Tobacco (Control) Act, 2015 in the area of study which is most likely the same case all over the country. Hitherto cigarette are being sold or retailed in sticks instead of packs and people still smoke in public places in violation of this law. Most law enforcement officers are also defaulters, hence making a set back for the anti smoking fight as most smokers do not even have the opportunity to see the warnings on the packs.

Several recommendations were made from the findings of the study including the full implementation and enforcement of the National Tobacco (Control) Act, 2015 to see to the speedy conviction of defaulters and the combined use of discouraging pictorial and text warnings on all tobacco products as well as increased sensitisation of the public against smoking and more effective programmes to help smokers quit.