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 Tobacco companies are deploying well-concocted lies to lure people into taking their fatally

poisoned wraps called cigarettes. Their billboards present vivacious winners and achievers puffing away



Still A Cannibal in Our Midst

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye


In June 2002, I published an essay in a number of Nigerian newspapers entitled: "The 17 Billion Poison House In Ibadan." The piece was my own way of pouring out my disgust and indignation due to reports in the media earlier in April that the Nigerian Government under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo had celebratorily granted permission to a so-called "leading cigarette company", British America Tobacco (BAT), to invest a "whopping $150 million (about 17 billion naira)" in the construction of a tobacco factory in Ibadan, "the biggest and most modern" of its kind in Africa. The prominent attraction of the company, according to reports, was that, when completed, it would provide employment to 1,000 Nigerians.

Expectedly, the article, also published in Houston-based newspaper, provoked immense interest, and was rewarded with an unimaginably wide circulation on the Internet. In fact, I have continued to see several links to it on a number of internet sites, including TOBACCO.ORG. Indeed, Op-Ed News which still maintains a link to the piece describes it as "Talking about Tobacco like we Never See in the US" (The piece is still available on the net at:

What amazed me after the publications was the panic reaction of this cigarette company. They immediately mounted an unprecedented image-packaging blitz through countless full-page glossy adverts in several newspaper and magazines. Their glossy billboards also adorned several strategic points in the nation’s cities.

Today, I am reopening this battle, not just with BAT, but with all other cigarette manufacturers in Nigeria and the whole of Africa, and I invite all concerned Africans and friends of the continent, and health and environmental rights activists, to join us to prosecute this clearly winnable struggle. These unrepentant merchants of death have targeted Africa now because, harsh laws and countless litigations in several Western countries are making it difficult for them to remain in business. We as a people, with the help of our friends, can insist that they are unwanted in our midst, despite the friendly disposition the various African governments, especially Nigeria, are showing towards them, for totally self-serving reasons.

The question I have always asked cigarette producers is: can they boldly come out in the open and assure me that the commodity they manufacture and distribute to hapless individuals cannot be rightly classified as poison? Again, they should tell me just one single benefit the human body derives from cigarettes. Has it not been convincingly proved everywhere, and publicly admitted by tobacco producers, that tobacco is a merciless killer, an unrelenting cannibal that devours a man when his life is sweetest to him? If then tobacco is a proven killer, can’t those who manufacture and circulate it in society be rightly classified as murderers? Hasn’t even Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health unambiguously endorsed this position by its insistence and persistent warning that TOBACCO SMOKERS ARE LIABLE TO DIE YOUNG?

The implication of the Health Ministry’s statement is simple: If tobacco smokers are liable to die young, then anyone offering you a cigarette is only informing you that the best wish he could possibly make to you is that your life be cut short! He is just telling you in very clear terms: May you die young! And that is exactly what BAT, other tobacco companies, and the governments that licensed them to operate in Nigeria and other parts of Africa are wishing all their people! How wicked and heartless could they be!

I know that after this piece now, BAT and their co-poison manufacturers will start again to erect new and more beautiful billboards, and fill several pages of newspapers with glossy adverts. Because of the ban placed on out-door advertising of tobacco products in Nigeria, they have devised a more subtle way to entice their victims. They are now pretending to use their billboards to promote Nigerian music, films, fashion, etc, but we all know that their main interest is to keep themselves in the consciousness of the people. If they are so much proud of Nigeria, why are they finding it difficult to put “Made in Nigeria” on the packets of the cigarettes they are even producing in Nigeria?

I see this as nothing but the huge, shameless strategies of a smiling, gentle, but ruthless murderer to persuade his victims to allow him to live among them so he could strike when they least expected. Well, this time around, I am waiting for them to boldly tell us that tobacco, the product they manufacture and circulate in Africa and several other countries outside the continent, is no more the resilient, implacable, silent killer, the lethal poison, and the heartless cannibal that seeks accommodation in the midst of hapless humanity with the sole intention of effecting their eventual decimation. I want to hear that cigarettes are no longer generous distributors of devouring cancer, tuberculosis, sundry terminal lung and heart diseases, etc.

Unfortunately, cigarette adverts are among the most alluring in society. The pleasant pictures of vivacious achievers smiling home with glittering laurels just because they are hooked to particular brands of cigarette which we see on glossy billboards are proving irresistible baits to several people, especially youths. The danger is so evident in the unparalleled glee with which youths adopt these cigarette advert stars as their most cherished heroes and models.

I was a victim too. As a youth, the elegant, gallant, athletic rodeo man whose image marketed the 555 brand of cigarette was my best idea of a handsome, hard-working winner. My friends and I admired him, carried his photographs about, and yearned to smoke 555 in order to grow up and become energetic and vivacious like him.

One wonders how many youths that have been terminally impaired because they went beyond mere fantasies and obsession with their cigarette advert heroes and became chain-smokers and irredeemable addicts. Managers of tobacco adverts are so adept in this grand art of deception that their victims never suspect any harm until they have willingly placed their heads on the slaughter slab. Indeed, only very few are able to look beyond the deceptive pictures and the pernicious pomp of cigarette promotional stunts and see the blood-curdling pictures of piecemeally ruined lungs and other sensitive organs, murky, chimney-like breath tracts and heart region, the looming merciless and spine-chilling fangs of an all devouring cancer, tuberculosis, sundry lung and heart diseases, and their associate unyielding killers. The warm reception given to British America Tobacco and other tobacco companies in Africa, especially in Nigeria, by the various governments is nothing but criminal, ungodly and anti-people.

There were reports that BAT paid 2billoin naira tax to the Nigerian government in 2001. I have even heard that it sponsors scholarships and community projects in some rural areas. But how many people have their lethal product sent to their early graves? How many widows, widowers and orphans are they producing with alarming rapidity? How many among their 1,000 employees are gradually ruined daily because of the insidious fumes they inhale during production of cigarettes? How many cancer, TB, lung disease patients do they produce in a year?

It is unfortunate that while in several countries of the world, tobacco companies and their owners are being isolated and choked with harsh laws, they have been allowed to invade Nigeria and other African countries with their filthy billions because we have  incompetent and insensitive governments that have no qualms welcoming urbane, but ruthless killers in the name of “foreign investors.”

The development in the United States on June 7, 2001 where a Los Angeles Superior Court in California slapped an unprecedented $3 Billion in damages on Phillip Morris, another giant tobacco company in response to a suit by a tobacco casualty, Richard Boeken, who had developed incurable cancer of the brain and lungs after smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes every day for 40 years should serve as eye opener to Africans that with several class suits from victims of tobacco, these evil merchants can be forced out of the continent. According to the New York Post editorial of June 9, 2001, 56-year-old Boeken who began smoking as a teenager in 1957 claimed that "he continued smoking not because it was addictive, but he believed claims by Tobacco Companies that smoking was safe." He told reporters in a post-trial interview: " I didn’t believe they would lie about the facts that they were putting out on television and radio."

That is exactly the point. Tobacco companies are deploying well-concocted lies to lure people into taking their fatally poisoned wraps called cigarettes. Their billboards present vivacious winners and achievers puffing away, instead of cancer patients treading the cold, dark, lonely path to a most painful, slow death. Every society has a responsibility to defend its unwary and the ignorant, and Nigeria and the rest of Africa cannot be an exception.

The argument that smokers ought to be dissuaded from smoking by the hardly visible warnings they put out on their packets, and that people are merely being allowed to exercise their right and freedom to make choices, is akin to endorsing suicide as a lawful expression of freedom? Why allow a killer-poison to circulate in the first place? Do we all have the same capacity to discern and resist the allurement of this clear and present danger?

In court and in several enquiries, tobacco producers have admitted that their product contains very harmful substances. It is widely believed that many tobacco producers are non-smokers because they know too well how deadly their product is!

Tobacco is a killer. So are its manufacturers. Nigerians, all Africans and the world should rise with one voice and unified strength and resist this cannibal in our midst. Certainly in several families, there have been tobacco victims. There are relevant laws under which these people can be sued.

You have a choice in this matter, to not only refuse to patronize their lethal product but to help your hapless, less-discerning neighbour do likewise. Remember, it is not tobacco control, but total abolition of the killer poison! This fight is winnable.

P/S: For more information about the destructive mission of tobacco, log on to 

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