Tobacco companies in Nigeria have evolved a new strategy of deliberately targeting the younger generation by situating their products near primary and secondary schools, a new report by the Nigerian Tobacco Control Research Group has shown.
The report, presented to the public in Ibadan on Thursday, said points of sales of tobacco products were found within 100 meters of surveyed schools across five cities in the country.
"The findings from this study reveal a number of themes that clearly identifies the deliberate use of marketing strategies to stimulate the interest of children and youths in tobacco products," the report said.
The British American Tobacco did not respond to requests for comments.
When contacted on Thursday, Abimbola Okoya, Area Head, Corporate Affairs at BAT West Africa, promised to issue a response on Friday but had not done so at the time of going to press.
Tobacco use is a major preventable cause of death worldwide and is projected to be responsible for eight million deaths annually by 2030, according to the World Health Organization, WHO.
The WHO report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011, showed that four out of every five adult smokers started smoking before age of 18, and that such young age of initiation to tobacco use is a strong predictor of prolonged use.
In Nigeria, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2008 documented that 12 per cent of students aged 13-15 had never smoked cigarettes while over 15 per cent currently use any tobacco product.
In the latest study by the NTCRG, 221 schools in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna, and Lafia were surveyed and 193 of them (87 per cent) had a point of tobacco sale within 100 metres of the school premises; 127 (66 per cent) of the 193 point of sales, POS were within visible distance of the immediate school environment.
Majority (83 per cent) of the stores and kiosks within 100 metres of schools had tobacco products on display on the counter while 50 (76 per cent) had the products behind the counter, the report stated.
Cigarettes were displayed next to confectioneries commonly purchased by children such as sweets and biscuits. In addition, cigarettes were sold in single sticks in 57 (86.4 per cent) and the packs less than 20 sticks in 46 (69.7 per cent) of POS observed and flavoured tobacco products were sold in four (7.7 per cent) of the stores and kiosks.
In Enugu, nine out of the 38 school areas visited for the study had at least a POS - four convenience stores, four permanent kiosks, and one mobile cart - located within 100 metres of distance.
One-third of the 74 school areas visited in Ibadan had, at least, one POS within visible range; while in Lafia, the POS for the tobacco products were visible in 11 out of 26 school areas visited.
All the school areas surveyed in Lagos and Kaduna had the POS within a visible range.
Article 16 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control prohibits the sale of tobacco products in any manner by which they are directly accessible, such as store shelves. It also prohibits the sale of cigarettes individually or in small packets which increase its affordability to minors.
Akindele Adebiyi, the Coordinator of the NTCRG, said there were branded kiosks and push-carts within a 100-metre radius of some of the school areas visited during the survey.
"The purpose of this was to increase the salience of the visually appealing tobacco products. In one such instance, it was quite unbelievable that this was situated directly at a gate which serves eleven schools," said Mr. Adebiyi, who works at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan.
"Allocation of colourfully branded tobacco kiosk is not a chance event as there must have been guidelines for such allocation by the sponsoring company (BAT in this instance).
"Our findings on the placement of this branded kiosk should be seen as a deliberate marketing strategy by the sponsoring company to target youths who are known to be attracted to bright colours.
"Colour has a strong influence on the way objects are recognized and identified. The colour yellow used as a branding colour for BAT sponsored kiosks is known to promote anxiety and attract impulsiveness in buyers."
The report, titled 'Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets,' was done in partnership with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) with funding from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Philip Jakpor, Head of Media and Campaign at ERA/FoEN, said the tobacco industry is using their might to target kids.
"The older generation who smoked are dying, many are dead and many will still die, so the tobacco companies are not relenting and they are using various tactics to go after the kids."
Last June, the Nigerian government announced nine regulations in the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act that would be implemented which included the prohibition of the sale of cigarettes to persons below age 18 and ban on the sale of cigarettes in single sticks.
The regulations, however, are awaiting the approval of the National Assembly.
Mr. Adebiyi said the tobacco industry often deploys several strategies to undermine tobacco control in Nigeria.
"And part of it is trying to peddle influence with the agencies and stakeholders that are responsible for tobacco control in Nigeria but we thank God that the federal ministry of health has actually taken this on and has said we are implementing nine out of things put in out NTCA," he said.
"And for the act to be fully implemented we need the regulations to be passed and the regulations will require the National Assembly members to take a proactive step to ensure that it is passed. Without that, tobacco control may not be effective as we expect it to be."