By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
Today, May 31, is 'World No Tobacco Day' (WNTD). First observed in 1987 following a motion passed by a cabinet of the World Health Assembly (WHA) which received the tacit support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has become a day devoted to global campaigns and efforts to significantly reduce, and eventually eliminate, the consumption of tobacco which not only ruins the health of its users, but also exposes every other person to serious harm by polluting the air we all breathe.
This is most worrisome given, for instance, a recent study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, which contains the chilling discovery that second-hand smoking (that is, passive smoking by people who are in the same environment with smokers) claims about 600,000 lives annually. More disturbing is the revelation that a third of these unfortunate victims are hapless children who inhale these poisonous cigarette fumes from their parents or other family members who are smokers.
The theme of this year's 'World No Tobacco Day' is 'Tobacco Industry Interference.' So, today's campaign will focus on the very urgent need to counter the brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts by the usually rich tobacco companies to deploy their massive influence and money to undermine campaigns and efforts worldwide to not only significantly reduce the consumption of tobacco, but also eventually abolish it.
The expectation is that this year's theme should sufficiently inspire more men and women across the world who cherish an environment uncontaminated by poisonous tobacco smoke and are pained by the killer diseases with which tobacco generously rewards its users to actively identify with all efforts in their communities today and henceforth aimed at achieving a world free from this grossly harmful product and its usage.
As I allow my mind today to endure the oppressive thought that tobacco still remains the silent, ruthless killer next door, what, if I may dare ask, can anyone safely call its producers and distributors without being accused of being unfair? To my mind, the answer can only be simple and straightforward: They are people who prosper at the expense of other people's lives because they rake in billions of dollars from the production and distribution of products that only ruin other people's health, and eventually terminate their lives. So, in very plain language: they are unrepentant killers of their fellow human beings!
In a recent release to mark 'World No Tobacco Day 2012,' the European Commission scared many people with the benumbing disclosure that 'Tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the EU. It accounts for around 700.000 premature deaths each year in the EU.'
Indeed, how these people are able to deaden their conscience to go on prospering and sustaining their own lives with the huge profits accruing to them from the production and marketing of a scientifically confirmed poisonous product whose only known benefit is its ability to cruelly terminate the lives of fellow human beings beats me hollow? Yes, tobacco never adds even the tiniest bit of value to life; it only destroys it completely and without mercy. This is a fact nobody has even attempted to deny.
Happily, Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Health has been screaming the warning that TOBACCO SMOKERS ARE LIABLE TO DIE YOUNG?
What the Health Ministry here is saying is very simple: Anyone offering you a cigarette is only wishing you an untimely death! In fact, he is just saying to you: May you die young! And that is exactly what tobacco companies, including the government that issued them the licenses to operate are wishing those that patronize them.
Before now, tobacco companies used to put up at strategic points in our city centres very beautiful and alluring billboards, and fill several newspaper and magazine pages with very appealing, glossy adverts. Unfortunately, that option is no longer available to them in many countries, because of the widespread ban on outdoor advertising of tobacco products.
I am glad that those pleasant pictures of vivacious achievers smiling home with glittering laurels just because they were hooked to particular brands of cigarette which used to adorn glossy billboards and magazine pages, and which had proved irresistible baits to several people, especially youths, have now vanished from our cities, highways and the media.
As a youth, the elegant, gallant, athletic rodeo man whose image marketed the 555 brand of cigarette was my best idea of a handsome, hard-working winner. My friends and I admired him, carried his photographs about, and yearned to smoke 555 in order to grow up and become energetic and vivacious like him.
One wonders how many youths that have been terminally ruined because they went beyond mere fantasies or obsession with their cigarette advert heroes and became chain-smokers and irredeemable addicts. Managers of tobacco adverts are so adept in this grand art of monumental deception that their victims never suspect any harm until they have willingly place their heads on the slaughter slab.
Only very few, perhaps, may at some point muster the will to look beyond the meretricious pictures and the pomp and glitter of cigarette promotional tricks and see the blood-curdling pictures of piecemeally ruined lungs and other sensitive organs, murky, chimney-like breath tracts and heart region, the gradually approaching merciless fangs of an all devouring cancer, tuberculosis, sundry lung and heart diseases, and various other horrible diseases which are the only rewards that tobacco generously distributes to those who embrace it.
I have heard that tobacco companies pay huge taxes to government, award scholarships to indigent students and embark upon several projects to better the lot of the common man in several communities. But how many people have their lethal product sent to their early graves? How many widows, widowers and orphans are they producing with alarming rapidity? How many cancer, TB and lung disease patients do they produce in a year? How many babies have they killed in the womb with the collaboration of pregnant smokers?
How many among their hapless employees are gradually ruined daily because of the harmful fumes they inhale during production of cigarettes? It is so saddening that while in several countries of the world, tobacco companies and their owners are being isolated, hounded and choked with harsh laws, they have been allowed to invade Nigeria and other African countries with their filthy billions because we have incompetent and insensitive governments that have no qualms welcoming smiling, gentle, urbane, but ruthless producers of poisonous products as "foreign investors."
I will never be tired of referring to an interesting development in the United States on June 7, 2001 where a Los Angeles Superior Court slapped an unprecedented $3 billion in damages on Phillip Morris, a tobacco giant company, in response to a suit by a tobacco casualty, Richard Boeken, who had developed incurable cancer of the brain and lungs after smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes every day for 40 years.
This should serve as eye opener to Africans that with several class suits from victims of tobacco, these merchants of death can easily be run out of town. According to the New York Post editorial of June 9, 2001, 56-year-old Boeken who began smoking as a teenager in 1957 claimed that "he continued smoking because he believed claims by tobacco companies that smoking was safe." He told reporters in a post-trial interview: 'I didn't believe they would lie about the facts that they were putting out on television and radio."
Now, that is exactly the issue. Tobacco companies deploy beautifully packaged lies to lure people into taking their fatally poisoned wraps called cigarettes. Their billboards do not advertise the unfortunate and pitiable cancer patients treading the cold, dark, lonely path to a most painful, slow death.
The argument that smokers ought to be dissuaded from smoking by the warnings put out on cigarette packets, and that people are merely being allowed to exercise their right and freedom to make choices, is akin to endorsing suicide as a lawful expression of freedom? Why allow a killer-poison to circulate among humans in the first place? Do all humans possess equal capacity to discern and resist the allurement of this clear and present danger? No matter how we look at it, we must be willing to admit that every society has a responsibility to defend its unwary and ignorant members from the ruinous wiles of their ill-intentioned neighbours. So, the only way to STOP the mass death that tobacco and its producers are carefully and religiously prosecuting in our world today is to totally and unambiguously outlaw it.
It is even widely known that many tobacco producers are non-smokers because they know too well how deadly their products are! In court and in several enquiries, tobacco producers have admitted that their product contains very harmful substances. So why should the government not protect its citizens from these products whose manufacturers have admitted contain harmful substances? That is one question that ought to engage our minds as 'World No Tobacco Day' is marked across the world today. Indeed, it has become necessary and urgent for us to agree that we as a people can no longer continue to postpone the decision to rise as one man and reject and resist the continued existence of this cannibal in our midst. It is a sacred duty.