Is the outgoing Minister of Health still a chain-smoker? If the answer is yes, could that be the reason why he did not show any interest in pushing for the passage of the Anti Tobacco Bill? Are Ghanaian parliamentarians simply unaware of the negative health implications of public smoking or they don’t just fathom why tobacco or cigarette smoking should be banned (in public places) or regulated in the strictest form? Can’t the few medical doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are serving as lawmakers in The House and occupying ministerial positions advice or give good suggestions to their colleagues, cabinet or the President?
At least, if politicians do not know that the health of those they will bequeath the destiny of this nation to is at serious risk and that could lead to high economic cost, then somebody should please educate them.
They should know better, since they have the opportunity to be there for our good and not for their own good. They should know that when one smokes cigarette or tobacco, his/her chances of developing lungs cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung disease, adverse developmental effects, peptic ulcer disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, low sperm count and among others is very high. The few amongst them with health background can be of good help by influencing the passage of laws like the Anti Tobacco Bill to benefit poor people like me and the generations to come.
Research has shown that awareness level on the dangers of tobacco use and second-hand smoking is still very low among Ghanaians most especially children and the illiterate class. All the top advisors of the President including the MPs, Ministers of Health and all Directors of Health Services are aware of how important it is to breathe in air that has no traces of tobacco and thus, can give appropriate advice to the President. So, why are we not seeing CHANGE when the President is being surrounded by such crop of great intellectuals who can say in one voice “Paapa John Evans Atta Mills, if we don’t pass the Anti Tobacco Bill now things would get worse and the revenue accrued from tobacco taxes will not be able to address the problems when they arise.”
To say the least, the outgoing Minister of Health, Benjamin Kunbuor has disappointed Ghanaians by showing sheer lack of commitment to make sure that the Anti Tobacco Bill was passed into Law. I know he wouldn’t say the Presidency was frustrating his efforts, and if that was the case, he should have resigned so that, people like me will not think that he was doing nothing! In the same vain, if the Director General of the Ghana Health Service and his subordinates think it is their dream to see the Bill passed but they are afraid of victimization when they speak out or make noise about it, they can equally step down. Let anyone ask me why and I will boldly tell that foe, that is what is practiced in countries that are practicing true democracy. Unless of course they want us to believe that what critics are saying about them is true; that they are self-centered politicians and outmoded technocrats who only think about themselves and their immediate families! Great leaders demonstrate their greatness and worth by examples that will leave positive marks behind them even after their death.
I like any other average Ghanaian is just sick and tired of the fact that, there has been a very serious and disturbing delay in passing the Anti Tobacco Bill into Law, more than six years since it was taken to the Cabinet of the previous regime under John Agyekum Kuffour for endorsement. Up till date, no one knows the fate of that Bill as the absence of a law has made the Tobacco industry to now adopt very subtle and more sophisticated ways in packaging and advertising cigarettes and other tobacco products recklessly. For instance, Western films, and recently, Nigerian and other African movies are perilously being used to advertise tobacco and promote smoking among the youth.
While all these things are happening, there seems to be no serious action from any quarters, both within and outside government to curtail them. The media, which is acclaimed for setting the national agenda or records straight, is rather tight-lipped and has focused on politics much to the relegation of this horrible practice. So the question is, do the media also have corporate social responsibilities towards building a better Ghana and if yes, what have they been doing positively with regard to the crusade on the anti-tobacco bill? Civil Society Organizations have also lost their voices and health professionals are not doing enough. Where are the so called foreign and local non-governmental organizations that are moving from one location to the other organizing workshops or forums on health to educate the public?
The leadership of the country has failed and so the masses have found themselves wanting. God should forgive them their mistakes and give each of them a second chance by directing their attention to issues of importance that will benefit all Ghanaians and not what will benefit them alone and their families.
The chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco smoke make smoking harmful. Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals. At least 50 are known carcinogens (cause cancer in humans) and many are poisonous. Cigarettes are one of few products which can be sold legally which can harm and even kill you over time if used as intended.
Statistics have indicated that there are more than a billion smokers in the world and 5 million deaths per year due to tobacco. Tobacco kills one in two long-term users. If the current consumption patterns continue, the number of deaths will reach 10 million per year by 2020, of which 70% will occur in developing countries including Ghana.
In Africa, 13.5% of boys and 5.2% of girls smoke cigarettes. The prevalence of the use of other tobacco products is around 11.3%. About 44% of young people in Africa are exposed to second-hand smoke in public places.
From the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey of 2003 and 2008, the Northern Region has the highest percentage (17.7%) of men who smoke cigarettes in Ghana. Tobacco use among the youth is also quite alarming. The 2005 Global Youth Tobacco Survey in Ghana also revealed that 14.3% of students of Junior High Schools have ever tried smoking cigarettes, whiles 4.8% currently smoke cigarettes. 17.2% currently use other tobacco products while 16.5% of never smokers are likely to start smoking.
Seriously, tobacco threatens sustainable development in the world’s poorest nations including Ghana through disability and premature death, high personal and national economic costs and environmental damage. Besides, acute smoking as I stated earlier causes cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung disease, adverse developmental effects, peptic ulcer disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, low sperm count and among others.
In order not to appear as a critic who does not show the proper way to follow, I recommend that all health professionals should take it upon themselves to offer counselling to patients whom they come into contact with at any particular period. I say so because health professionals have the opportunity to help people change their behavior and they can give advice, guidance and answers to questions related to the consequences of tobacco use, thereby help patients to stop smoking.
This is because, studies have shown that even brief counseling by health professionals on the dangers of smoking and the importance of quitting is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing smoking.
If Ghanaian politicians proclaim to be the representatives of poor people like me, the populace wants to see them demonstrate their political will and commitment towards addressing issues that can cause the nation so much pain and anguish or even death. The Anti-Tobacco Bill should be passed without further delay.
A word to a wise is enough. I hope anybody put in a leadership position to stir the affairs of this great country will begin to think positively henceforth, and act decisively to ensure that something is done about the Anti-Tobacco Bill. I just hope no one will deliberately and in a schemed manner accuse me for causing fear and panic neither would they say I have sinned against Parliament or the work of Parliament by writing this thought-provoking article.
Besides, I thought it was very appropriate and a wise decision, to reawaken all of us as Ghanaians to continue with a debate like the passage of the Anti-Tobacco Bill which for me, seems to be forgotten. Some people did well by starting the process and so those who have come should also continue with it.
I know that Joseph Yiele Chireh, the Minister designate for the Ministry of Health is a non-smoker. Besides, even if he is a smoker, please Mr. Minister, make the passage of the Anti-Tobacco Bill one of your goals as you take office. Failure to do so, your party will lose my vote come 2012. Let me also assure you that, as long as I live I will continue to write articles like this one just to let the whole world know that the NDC government has a lot of tobacco smokers and that is why it is nonessential for it as a political party to pass the Anti-Tobacco Bill into LAW.
By: Joseph Ziem
The writer is a journalist/blogger and frequently writes for The Daily Dispatch and several other online media. All comments, views and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or +233 207344104.