In the complex tapestry of society, media serves as a pivotal thread. Its power to shape public opinion, perceptions, and behaviours is undeniable, often illuminating intricate social phenomena. In Nigeria, a significant platform embodying this power is Nollywood, our vibrant film industry, which captivates millions worldwide.
The burgeoning digital age, characterized by social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, has also inspired a new generation of content creators, artists, and filmmakers. They exploit the changing landscape of media and entertainment to create dynamic skits, which have quickly gained popularity among netizens – habitual participants in online communities. These skits, while entertaining, serve as influential vessels subtly shaping the beliefs and behaviours of a predominantly youthful audience.
However, the capacity of these skits to effect positive change is also paralleled by the risk of misuse such as in instances where they objectify women and endorse harmful trends like smoking leading to a worrying normalisation of such behaviours. A prime example is the promotion of smoking and tobacco products by Smokeboxng. Despite being a retail shop, it produces skits that endorse tobacco consumption, often utilising notable celebrities to drive home its message, thereby undermining the positive societal impact these skits could have, especially on young, impressionable viewers.
This worrying trend is against the backdrop of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) warnings that the dangers of tobacco use to children and adolescents are profound, ranging from the immediate health risks to the potential for lifelong addiction. Tobacco usage is not merely an individual issue but also a societal problem with far-reaching implications. It is on this basis that Nigeria’s tobacco control legislation, implemented in 2015, serves as a critical legal instrument to regulate tobacco use and safeguard the health and rights of citizens.
Regarding the media, Section 12 of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 broadly bans Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS). Specifically, Section 12 (4) clarifies that media representations of tobacco use, or products are not regarded as promotional if they are incidental, historically accurate, or necessary for journalistic or artistic purposes, or for education. This exemption, however, is valid only if no compensation has been provided by tobacco manufacturers or sellers for such depictions. Despite the ban on TAPS, filmmakers and content creators continue to flout the law.
Engaging the System
In response to the worrying trend of tobacco usage and promotion in the media, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) set out to engage key stakeholders to work together to put an end to the menace. Working in concert with the National Film and Videos Censors Board (NFVCB), between 2019 and 2022, CAPPA organized several meetings with practitioners in Nollywood and the media industry in Nigeria aimed at creating awareness about the provisions contained in Nigeria’s tobacco law, and garnering support for its full implementation and enforcement. The NFVCB in 2022 announced a move to prohibit smoking in films and enforce the non-classification of Nollywood movies depicting the use of tobacco. Although a step in the right direction much remains to be done and seen, especially in view of ongoing tobacco portrayals in the media.
Nigerians look up to the NFVCB to live up to its enormous responsibility not just as a regulator but as an upholder of narratives that could make or mar public health. The Board must work together with all stakeholders, including practitioners, tobacco control advocates, and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to enforce the ban on TAPS in the media space. This can be achieved by ensuring films carry appropriate ratings, actively monitoring entertainment content, enforcing health warnings in inevitable smoking scenes, verifying no compensation for tobacco product portrayals, and penalizing law violators.
By operating on these parameters that uphold healthy narratives, the entertainment industry in Nigeria through Nollywood will not only refine and complement its creativity and dynamism but also save young persons and future generations from falling into a rabbit hole of tobacco usage. #Smokefree Nollywood is not just a hashtag; it’s a call to action. Let us answer it with the urgency, commitment, and vigilance it deserves.