The Pediatrics Association of Nigeria (PAN), has commenced the Nigeria Tobacco-Free School Initiative to end tobacco usage and smoke exposure in the school environment.
At a workshop on “Capacity Developing And Advocacy to End Tobacco Use’’ on Wednesday, stakeholders emphasised the need for Nigeria to implement control policies.
PAN President, Prof. Augustine Omoigberale, noted that the use of tobacco had been known to lead to severe health and socio-economic outcomes.
According to him, the use and exposure to tobacco smoke among the Nigerian school population and in Nigerian schools is gradually becoming an issue of public health concern.
He said the implementation of anti-tobacco programmes in schools had yielded positive health and social outcomes globally, hence the tobacco-free Nigerian school initiative.
Prof. Edwin Eseigbe, Professor of Pediatrics, said Nigeria was signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which recommended priority to tobacco control and ending exposure to second hand smoking.
He said the workshop was targeted at building capacity and advocacy of stakeholders in the school system to prevent and control the use of tobacco among school population and in schools.
Eseigbe said PAN in partnership with American Academy of Pediatrics, saw the need to make Nigerian schools tobacco-free, and ensure that teachers and students were well informed about the dangers of tobacco.
“We are unmindful of those already using it, but we are also thinking of providing Tobacco cessation clinics for those already indulging in it and who want to leave.
“So, we are providing school health services along that line, we are also pursuing the development and implementation of policies that protect the school environment and those of the school population from becoming exposed to tobacco usage, tobacco smoke and the like.’’
He said the school population also targeted the out-of-school children, saying the association wants to see how stakeholders would make it a reality.
Eseigbe noted that the impact of tobacco usage cuts across diverse issues, as it was inimical to the growth and development of children.
“With tobacco, there is no guaranteed adulthood, because tobacco is a risk factor in six of the most common deaths in humanity.
“Tobacco is known to cause problems right from the womb, or affects the unborn child bringing about increased featal loss, that is death in the womb, babies being born with congenital abnormalities, like low birth weight, its a problem in childhood. ”
He said the dangers of second hand smoking could cause more harm in children, making them more vulnerable.
“Second hand smoke is known to cause hundreds of deaths on a yearly basis, it makes children susceptible to respiratory tract infection, those who already have asthma, and others.
“When children are sick, it affects everything around them, their development, their intellectual, their physical output, and at the end of the day, the future we so desire, becomes very compromised.”
Eseigbe, who is the Chief Medical Director, Bingham University Teaching Hospital Jos, said that all hands must be on deck to promote the growth and development of Nigerian children.
He said the initiative would also address the challenge of non-availability of data by carrying out a national survey in the six geopolitical zones in both government and private school to ensure that data gaps were available.
He expressed concern about the burden of out of school children to dangers of tobacco usage, saying they were more vulnerable to secondary hand smoking prevalent around them.
Dr Kunle Otuneye, Consultant Pediatrician at the National Hospital, said there is the need for enabling laws and policies to ban tobacco use in public places.
According to him, the nature of some items on concurrent and residual lists, make it difficult to have a national policy and enforcement to ending this scourge.
Otuneye stressed that stakeholder collaboration should target all groups, saying this would go a long way in disseminating information to a wider audience.
He also spoke about issues of easy access and affordability to tobacco use, especially among the youth population, stressing that increased taxation could reduce affordability.
According to him, without concerted efforts to discourage smoking, the school population is at risk of tobacco use or smoke exposure.
Other participants also advocated a ban on tobacco advertisements in order to discourage its usage.