World No Tobacco Day 2024: Journalists charged to improve tobacco control reporting knowledge

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Screen Shot of Web Discusion on Effective Reporting of Children and Tobacco Addiction

To improve their understanding on how the tobacco industry undermines public health especially that of children, 57 journalists from 20 African countries who participated in a web discussion on reporting children and tobacco addiction have been told to jettison armchair reporting and head to the frontlines.

The discussion organized by the Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) in collaboration with Vital Voices for Africa (VVA) and Being Africa brought together journalists from Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and 14 other African countries in commemoration of the World No Tobacco Day 2024 themed Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference.

Philip Jakpor, Executive Director of RDI

Welcoming the participants, Executive Director of RDI, Philip Jakpor said 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.

Jakpor went further to stress that Worldwide, 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.

In his welcome, Executive Director of VVA, Caleb Ayong pointed out that youths account for the largest chunk of the 8 million people who die every year from tobacco-related causes in low and middle income countries.

Caleb Ayong

Ayong said that the tobacco industry is cunning—targeting the youth, enticing them with flavored products, and perpetuating addiction even as he echoed the strategic role that journalists play in exposing what the tobacco industry would prefer to hide.

Tobacco control advocate, Oluchi Joy Robert in her intervention titled 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.

She 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. She revealed that children in Nigeria are exposed to flavoured products that are more attractive easier to access.

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

She 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. She noted 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.

Speaking on the dearth of information on children smoking rates, Mohammed Maikudi, Nigeria Country Lead, DaYTA Programme of the Development Gateway 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) program, 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.

He 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.

Founder, Being Africa, Achieng Otieno, who spoke on Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and Children’s Rights, told participants that the WHO identified tobacco as the biggest threat to public health and is responsible for over 8 million preventable deaths worldwide. This conviction influenced the initiation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to help governments curb the global tobacco epidemic.

He said that the WHO FCTC 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.

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. 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.

On the centrality of the media to the issues discussed by the earlier speakers, Caleb Ayong of VVA and Philip Jakpor of RDI emphasized that the media has the onerous task of keeping the tobacco industry in check and government officials on their toes.

Ayong 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.

In his words, …”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”.

Philip 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. He said that good stories come from tobacco farms, tobacco factories, entertainment centers, hospitals, schools, homes of victims and Social media platforms, among others.

Jakpor also pointed the participants to credible sources for interviews. They include medical practitioners, teachers, children themselves, victims and their parents.

Documents according to him, are also sources of information that tobacco corporations are always ready to hide. 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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