African journalists converge to tackle tobacco menace with effective reportage

About 57 media practitioners from 20 African countries have participated in a web discussion on reporting children and tobacco addiction, noting that youths account for the largest chunk of the 8 million people who die every year from tobacco-related causes.

Penpushing reports that the web discussion organized by the Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) in conjunction with Vital Voices for Africa (VVA) and Being Africa brought together journalists from Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and 14 other African countries.

The discussion was in commemoration of the World No Tobacco Day 2024, with the theme, ‘Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference’, an event annually organized on May 31, noting that tobacco industry marketing, advertising, promotion and sponsorship are targeted on youths

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Penpushing further reports that Executive Director of Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) Philip Jakpor in his welcome speech advised media practitioners to improve the quality of their tobacco control reports to protect children from tobacco use and addiction.

The Executive Director explained that the theme for 2024 x rays what governments can do to thwart industry antics of recruiting replacement smokers among children adding that research shows 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.

Penpushing also reports that Jakpor pointed out that globally, 78% of young people aged 13-15 years report regular exposure to some form of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, even as he added that recent researches show that children as young as 10 are also getting inducted into smoking due to their exposure to the internet and other factors.

The Executive Director of Vital Voices for Africa (VVA), Caleb Ayong in his contributions pointed out the youths account for the largest chunk of the 8 million people who die every year from tobacco-related causes.

Penpushing reports that a Nigerian United Kingdom- based tobacco control advocate Oluchi Joy Robert in her presentation on The Tobacco Industry Addicts Children: Experiences from Nigeria, pointed out that Nigeria, the world’s seventh most populous country, has been recognised by major transnational tobacco companies as a market with enormous income potential due to its large youth population and expanding GDP.

The advocate explained that in Nigeria the tobacco corporations are all out to recruit more young lungs to replace a dying generation of old patrons and maintain a strong hold in terms of market share for their tobacco products, informing that children in Nigeria are exposed to flavoured products that are more attractive easier to access.

Penpushing further reports that communications specialist at the Zambian-based Centre for Primary Care Research, Prixina Phiri, in similar vein, speaking on the Zambian experience said that children access tobacco products from their schools and shopping malls.

The communication specialist relayed that children in Zambia, like many countries on the continent have easy access to tobacco products including the e-cigarettes that freely displayed in shopping malls and cigarettes displayed and sold in kiosks and near schools.

Penpushing also reports that she pointed out sadly that Zambia is yet to enact a tobacco control law to help protect children from the tobacco industry interference and other tactics of wooing young minds.

The Nigeria Country Lead, DaYTA Programme of the Development Gateway Mohammed Maikudi, speaking on the dearth of information on children smoking rates said that his organization in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leads the DaYTA (Data on Youth Tobacco in Africa) programme, focusing on addressing critical data gaps related to adolescent tobacco use in Nigeria.

‘The initiative aims to gather comprehensive country-level data on tobacco use among young people aged 10 to 17, thereby filling critical evidence gaps and complementing existing data. The research consortium includes key national and regional stakeholders from various sectors including Ministries of Health; Tobacco control advocacy organizations; academic researchers, and representatives from youth member organizations, among others.

Penpushing further reports that Maikudi explained that the DaYTA will fill critical evidence gaps and gather detailed and accurate data on tobacco use among adolescents aged 10 to 17 in Nigeria and provide robust data to government stakeholders and policymakers, enabling them to make informed decisions on tobacco control measures.

The Founder, Being Africa, Achieng Otieno, who spoke on Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and Children’s Rights, told participants that the World Health Organisation(WHO) identified tobacco as the biggest threat to public health and is responsible for over 8 million preventable deaths worldwide.

Penpushing also reports that Otieno stated that this conviction influenced the initiation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to help governments curb the global tobacco epidemic.

The Being Africa boss explained that the World Health Organisation/Framework Convention on Tobacco Control presents a blueprint for governments to adopt effective tobacco control measures including protecting the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco (and nicotine products) consumption and involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.

Penpushing reports that on children, he noted that the Convention on the Rights of the Children explains who children are, all their rights, and the responsibilities of governments, noting that 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.

Penpushing further reports that earlier speakers, which include Ayong and Jakpor on the centrality of the media emphasized that the media has the onerous task of keeping the tobacco industry in check and government officials on their toes.

The Executive Director of Vital Voices for Africa who made a presentation on Youth Tobacco Use and SDGs asserted that 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be achieved as long as tobacco merchants are left unchecked.

‘While SDG 3 encourages universal health coverage, disease prevention, and mental health promotion, tobacco use directly contradicts these goals, causing diseases like cancer, heart ailments, and respiratory disorders. Tobacco infringes upon children’s basic rights to health and welfare and child labor in tobacco production persists in many parts of Africa’, HE SAID.

Penpushing also reports that Jakpor in his presentation on Producing Captivating Reports on Youth Tobacco Smoking, encouraged the media participants to go beyond arm chair reporting and getting on the frontlines of the tobacco menace.

The Executive Director of Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) said that good stories can come from tobacco farms, tobacco factories, entertainment centres, hospitals, schools, homes of victims and social media platforms, among others, pointing out that on need for the participants to credible sources for interviews, which he said include medical practitioners, teachers, children themselves, victims and their parents.

Penpushing reports that he said documents are also sources of information that tobacco corporations are always ready to hide, and for this reason he asked the journalists to go after annual reports; allies’ internal reports; news sources; newsletters; as well as reports from Annual General Meetings; social media accounts –Facebook, X, Instagram etc.

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