Cigar Nor Be Food, Na Poison! -By Isaac Asabor

Unarguably to buttress the reason why today should be celebrated, the apex global agency said “Nearly 828 million people are facing hunger globally. Of these, 278 million (20%) are in Africa. In addition, 57.9% of people in Africa suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity.

If there is any Special Day that the global community should not joke about or politicize with, it is unarguably the 31st day of each year. The reason for its importance in the world’s calendar is that it is the day when the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health champions around the world on a yearly basis come together to celebrate. It is called World No Tobacco Day (WNTD).

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is didactic to disclose in this context that today, May 31, 2023, is been celebrated as World No Tobacco Day under the theme, “We need food, not tobacco!” So, today is undeniably a day that has been set aside by health and community organizations in Nigeria and other countries across the world to commemorate World No Tobacco Day as it provides the opportunity to highlight the dangers associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke. It is also an occasion to renew the advocacy for effective policies to halt the tobacco epidemic and its impact on individuals, societies, and nations.

As gathered from WHO, “This year’s theme is “Grow Food, Not Tobacco”. This theme aims to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable, and nutritious crops. The theme also seeks to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, thereby worsening the global food crisis. It calls on all of us to explore how food and agricultural policies make adequate nutritious food and healthy diets available while reducing tobacco production.

“Tobacco growing and production exacerbates nutrition and food insecurity. Tobacco farming destroys ecosystems, depletes soil fertility, contaminates water bodies, and pollutes the environment. Any profits to be gained from tobacco as a cash crop may not offset the damage done to sustainable food production in low- and middle-income countries.

Unarguably to buttress the reason why today should be celebrated, the apex global agency said “Nearly 828 million people are facing hunger globally. Of these, 278 million (20%) are in Africa. In addition, 57.9% of people in Africa suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity.

This jeopardizes the region’s attainment of SDG 2 which aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The intensification of the major drivers behind recent food insecurity and malnutrition trends, such as conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks, further compounds this situation. Therefore, our concerted actions are essential, so everyone has enough food.

It added that “We face a grave challenge in food and nutrition security imposed by the increasing tobacco farming in the Africa Region. Available data shows that while the area under tobacco cultivation decreased by 15.7% globally, in Africa it increased by 3.4% from 2012 to 2018. During this period, tobacco leaf production globally reduced by 13.9%; however, it increased by 10.6% in Africa. In recent years, tobacco cultivation has shifted to Africa because of a regulatory environment that is more favorable to the tobacco industry, as well as increasing demand for tobacco”.

Digressing from the emphasis placed on farming food crops, permit me to opine that smokers also need to feed well by recalling an experience I had with a smoker even before now. Lekan is unarguably addicted to smoking and popularly known as “Omo Oga” among his friends and colleagues. He is a mechanic and lives in Lotto community in Mowe, Ogun State.

Based on the aversion and regrets he expressed when engaged by this writer to understand the reason behind his smoking habit, it was possible to have firsthand knowledge about why the campaign for this year’s “No Tobacco Day” is been anchored and driven with the theme, “Grow Food, Not Tobacco.”

I must confess that the reason for being in support of the campaign, and hence the inspiration to express this view cannot be pooh-poohed as the negative impact that tobacco can have on anyone’s life is damaging.

Lekan, in our parley, confessed that while growing up in a home with smokers that he remembers picking up his first cigarette around the age of 12. “I started smoking cigarettes when I was always running errands for brother Fatai, and by and by, the daily routine which I thought was part of my own way of respecting my elders eventually led me to become a full-time smoker by 13 years old.”

As an addiction that stuck with him despite several attempts to quit, he said, “I have tried to quit seriously three times. The first time was in 2021 when I began my wellness journey and was diagnosed with a disorder that was causing a thickening of my vocal cords. I made it for about 6 weeks and then my best friend was diagnosed with Leukemia. While trying to support him, I started smoking again to cope with the stress.”

Lekan tried to quit for a second time in February 2020 after his father died of a stroke. “I wanted to do anything I could do to improve my health. Unfortunately, after about 6 weeks of success, COVID-19 hit, and the fear and anxiety I felt led to a panic attack that resulted in an illness which I cannot explain but the doctor told me the sickness was a result of my smoking habit. Unfortunately, when I left the hospital, I picked up a pack of cigarettes and started smoking again.”

To this writer, it is expedient for the fight against smoking to be intensified as it should not remain a fight that is only fought on May 31 by each passing year. The reason for the foregoing cannot be farfetched as the era of the COVID-19 pandemic made it more important than ever for the world to confront the tobacco problem. The era of the COVID-19 pandemic unarguably showed that smoking weakens the immune system and increases the risk of respiratory infections. It will be recalled in this context that many of the underlying health conditions that placed individuals at greater risk for severe complications from COVID-19 during the period were revealed to have been caused by tobacco use.

To me, quitting smoking is the single most important step a smoker can take to improve the length and quality of his or her life.
Unarguably expressing his strong desire to quit the habit, Lekan rued, “My dad’s passing was soul-crushing to me. I have two adult children and though I know that I will pass away eventually, I want to save them from that pain as long as I possibly can, and I don’t want it to be because of smoking.” As if he knew the theme of this year’s “World No Smoking Day”, he said, “I need food for me to look healthy, not cigarette that is making me fall sick every time,” and with a warning tone, ended the parley thus, “Cigar Nor Be Food, Na Poison”, which invariably is the headline of this piece.