The World Health Organisation, WHO, says over eight million people die annually from tobacco-related smoke. Most of these deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries. The tobacco industry is known to target new smokers, especially the youths through visuals that glamourise smoking. Because of this, film hubs like Hollywood and Bollywood have banned smoking in movies.
Fourteen years ago, precisely in 2007, a screening of 10 randomly selected movies by tobacco control activists in Nigeria showed that the tobacco industry might have been using Nollywood to promote tobacco smoking. 10 movies screened at the time were found to have unnecessary smoking scenes and glamourised smoking. In 2020 a random selection and preview of 36 films also showed the same glamourisation of smoking observed in 2007.
In this interview, Oluchi Joy Robert, Project Coordinator at the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, gives a deeper insight into the phenomenon and what Nigeria must do to save its youths from tobacco addiction.
Can you tell us how serious smoking on set and in music videos is in Nigeria?
It is more serious than we think and is a matter of grave concern. It is something that crept in gradually but is deliberate. The tobacco industry has been subtly using our own Nollywood to promote Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) in the movies and music videos.
It might interest you to know that as far back as 2007 when tobacco control advocates randomly selected and screened about 10 Nigerian movies, smoking was not only glamourised but also portrayed as a socially accepted norm. In fact, there were instances of specific brand placements in some of the movies.
READ ALSO: Man in court for publicly smoking marijuana
Let me also quickly add that in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, overall screen time has increased significantly. So this translates to the fact that the percentage of time adolescents, Nigerian kids inclusive, are exposed to smoking scenes via watching movies and music videos increased and we know what that means.
There is an established correlation between smoking scenes in movies and initiation into smoking by adolescents. There is no better time to stop advancing this cause than now as onscreen smoking has significant impact. So, it is profoundly serious and calls for real concern.
Does smoking in movies and music videos contravene any Nigerian law?
The answer is a big Yes! The National Tobacco Act, which was passed in 2015, and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 both contain provisions prohibiting tobacco advertisement promotion and sponsorships in movies and entertainment.
Sections of the Act relevant to smoking in movies and music videos include: Sec. 12(1) of the Act, which defines “tobacco advertising and promotion” to include “any form of commercial communication, recommendation, or action with the aim, effect, or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use directly or indirectly,” and adds that, “no person shall promote or advertise tobacco or tobacco products in any form.”
The First Schedule of the Act provides examples of tobacco advertising and promotion that are prohibited, including product placement, such as inclusion of, or reference to, a tobacco product, service, or trademark in the context of communication in return for payment or other consideration.
That same section of the Act provides for exceptions to the ban on tobacco advertising and promotion for certain types of communications including for depictions of tobacco products or tobacco use in media where (1) the depiction is purely incidental or is justified by reasons of historical accuracy or legitimate journalist or artistic expression, (2) where the depiction is required for education purposes; provide no payment or other consideration was offered or made by a tobacco manufacturer, seller, or any person acting on their behalf;
Or (3) any genuine political, social or scientific commentary about tobacco products or tobacco use; provided no payment or other consideration was offered or made by a tobacco manufacturer, seller, or any other person acting on their behalf.
It is said that Hollywood and Bollywood have banned smoking scenes in movies. How did they do it?
For Bollywood, the Indian government at the time felt that films were glamourising smoking and of course considering that nearly 15 million persons saw Bollywood films daily then. In May 2005, the Indian government banned, outright, smoking in movies and on television. The ban took effect in October 2005.
We also believe that a 2003 World Health Organisation report which estimated that India is home to about 250 million tobacco users and of this huge number, more than 800,000 persons die annually from smoking-related diseases also contributed to that decision by the government. Although there are exceptions when the use of tobacco is only allowed, but then this is after strong representations have been made by producers to the concerned authorities and if granted, the producer must air 30-seconds anti-tobacco spots and at least 20-seconds disclaimers prepared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the negative effects of tobacco.
Also, this must be played at the beginning and middle of film and television programmes. This is too many hassles for a producer, so they would rather prefer not having smoking scenes in their movies.
We all can affirm that globally, Hollywood is still the biggest money earner as far as movies are concerned. That also makes it a target market for tobacco advertisement and the lot. Individual Movie Company policies became the order of the day because they have a huge role to play for the ban to be effective even though it is not that is needed.
So, in 2006 Universal Pictures stated that its policy “presumes that no smoking incidents should appear in any youth-rated film produced by Universal Pictures or any wholly-owned Universal Studios film label and released in the United States.” We all know how big Universal Pictures are, so bringing such a policy goes a long way with doing away with on-screen smoking.
Sony Pictures on its own part in December 2012 committed to reducing depictions of tobacco use in the films either produced by the company or any wholly-owned film division.
Paramount Pictures on its own in January 2013 issued a statement stating that the studio “recognises the serious health risks that accompany tobacco use.” It stated that it “discourages the depiction of smoking or tobacco in youth-rated films” and then went ahead to say that they will communicate this policy to its filmmakers because studies of the United States of America film industry have shown that onscreen smoking accounts for 37% of all new adolescent smokers. Canada also took a similar decision.
Which organisations and groups should be putting in place regulations to stop smoking scenes in Nigerian movies and music videos?
There are several agencies of government that have roles to play in ensuring that our movies and music videos are devoid of smoking scenes. They include the National Film and Video Censors Board, National Orientation Agency, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, National Broadcasting Commission, and the Federal Ministry of Justice.
What exactly is your organisation doing about smoking scenes in Nollywood?
We started from the point of advocacy and the first thing we are doing is sensitising the public on the issue at hand, which is why we are granting this interview.
We are also reaching out to regulatory agencies like the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the National Film and Video Censors Board, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) to mention a few, and all other stakeholders especially in the entertainment sector, to start enforcing the provisions of the law.
Effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Regulations 2019 needs to take off in full force completely as that is the way to ensure all TAPS (tobacco advertisement promotion and sponsorship) are banned in Nigerian movies and music videos as well as every other content that goes out to the viewing public through all digital platforms.