May 31, 2024

Journalists can stop tobacco industry from grooming children as smoker-generation replacement — Activists

Journalists can stop tobacco industry from grooming children as smoker-generation replacement — Activists

A screengrab of participants at the discussion.

By Agbonkhese Oboh

Rights activists have said journalists can prevent the tobacco industry from grooming a generation of children into smokers through improved reports on tobacco use and addiction.

The activists gave the charge to over 57 media practitioners from 20 African countries at a web discussion on “Effective Reporting of Children and Tobacco Addiction,” yesterday, in commemoration of World No Tobacco Day celebrated May 31 annually. The theme, this year, is “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference”.

The discussion, which had journalists from Nigeria, Kenya, Togo, Zambia, Ghana, Cameroon and many other African countries, was organised by the Renevlyn Development Initiative, RDI, in conjunction with Vital Voices for Africa, VVA, and Being Africa.

Read Also: African Tobacco Control Alliance backs Nigeria’s ban of smoking in Nollywood

In his presentation, Philip Jakpor, Executive Director of RDI, said “The media shapes tobacco-related knowledge, opinions, and influences individuals and policymakers.”

He added that for signatories to the WHO – Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, WHO-FCTC, mass media anti-tobacco campaigns are key components of their TC programmes.

“Above all these,” Jakpor said, “a journalist must have the passion to expose what the industry has to hide.”

He said research showed that about “one-third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs as a result of tobacco industry marketing and tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship targeting them.”

Jakpor then explained sources, formats, and channels of getting tobacco stories that concern children.

Expriences from Nigeria

Speaking on “The Tobacco Industry Addicts Children: Experiences from Nigeria,” Oluchi Robert, a tobacco control advocate, said according to the WHO news release of May 2024, Nigeria, the world’s seventh most populated country, has been recognised by major transnational tobacco companies, TTCs, as a market with enormous income potential due to its large youth population and expanding GDP.

“For us in Nigeria, we know that this translates to the fact that Big Tobacco is all out to recruit more young ones to replace her dying patronisers and maintain a stronghold in terms of market share for tobacco products.

“The tobacco industry in Nigeria, like in many other countries, targets children and young people through various tactics,” Robert noted.

She listed the tactics to include flavored products, accessibility, product marketing style that appeals to youths, and covert advertising through product placements in movies, music videos and use of social media.

“According to a 2020 cross-sectional study of school adolescents in Lagos, the most frequently reported channel of exposure was through product placements, with 62% reporting exposure in films, TV, and videos.

“Up to 15.2% and 12.6% were exposed to TAPS (tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship) through promotional activities and sponsorships, respectively,” she explained.

For Mohammed Maikudi, Nigeria Country Lead, DaYTA Programme, Development Gateway, emphasis must be on the urgent need to protect young people from the predatory marketing tactics of the tobacco industry.

He said: “According to the WHO, the industry’s strategies aim to create lifelong users by targeting youth, who are increasingly using e-cigarettes at alarming rates.

“Globally, around 37 million youth aged 13 to 15 years use tobacco, posing significant health risks and contributing to the growing burden of tobacco-related diseases.”

Children’s rights

On his part, Achieng Otieno of Being Africa said: “In line with the Global commemoration of World No Tobacco Day focused on advocating for an end to the targeting of children with harmful tobacco products, measures must be put in place to protect young people from maneuvers from the tobacco industry influences and interferences.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Children explains who children are, all their rights, and the responsibilities of governments. According to the convention, all children’s rights are connected, are equally important, and cannot be taken away from children.

“The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and children’s rights intersect in several crucial ways, primarily concerning protecting children from the harms of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco and nicotine products.”

He listed hem to include prevention of tobacco use among minors, protection from secondhand smoke, access to information and education, protection from tobacco industry interference, and healthcare and support services.

Journalists’ role

Also emphasising the journalists’ place in the fight against tobacco, Caleb Ayong, Executive Director of VVA, said: “The media, which has the responsibility to keep society in check, must be able to identify tobacco industry interference tactics to be able to adequately investigate and expose them.

“Journalists play a crucial role in raising awareness, exposing industry tactics, and advocating for adequate tobacco control policy adoption and implementation.

“The presentation proposes critical questions that journalists can ask themselves to inspire powerful and impactful investigative articles/productions.”

He warned that the tobacco industry targets young people with aggressive marketing, investing billions on the advertisement of its products.

“It organises parties, concerts, and product placements to specifically lure young and impressionable minds to its products and activities. It also engages in false claims that E-cigarettes with youth-friendly flavors (bubble-gum, candy), and other tobacco products that attract young users, are healthier alternatives to smoking.”

Other activists at the discussion, who encouraged media practitioners to improve their contributions to tobacco control, were Paxina Phiri, Communication Officer, Centre for Primary Care Research, CPCR; Samson Achieng, Founder, Being Africa; and Frida Leyina Voma, Projects Manager, VVA.

    Vanguard News