By Paul Ashibel

The tobacco industry has a history of using various mediums to promote its products, and movies and streaming platforms are no exception. In Nigeria, like many other countries, the intersection of tobacco and media raises concerns about the potential impact on public health. The relationship between the tobacco industry and media has been a longstanding concern globally.

Tobacco promotion in Nigeria has evolved through various mediums over the years. In the mid-20th century, print media became a key platform for advertising tobacco products, and the tobacco industry heavily advertised its killer products on the hallowed pages of newspapers. As technology advanced, Radio and Television became the hot media platforms for tobacco promotion in Nigeria. However, recognizing the health risks associated with tobacco, Nigeria would later implement stricter regulations. The 2015 National Tobacco Control Act made further provisions restricting tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. In recent years, digital platforms have become a concern as tobacco companies attempt to reach audiences through online channels. In Nigeria, the influence of movies and streaming platforms in shaping societal norms is an avenue for the tobacco industry to promote its killer products.

Movies have long served as a powerful medium for storytelling, entertainment, and cultural reflection, but a concerning aspect has been the promotion of tobacco use. Characters in films often smoke, presenting a glamorous and rebellious image that can influence audiences, especially the youths. This cinematic portrayal has been linked to an increased likelihood of tobacco initiation among youthful viewers. The issue is compounded when considering product placement deals. While regulations have aimed to curb overt tobacco advertising, subtle cues persist in many films. Movies often feature characters; especially notable screen icons smoking, attempting to create a subconscious association between smoking and desirable traits.

Efforts to address this concern require stricter regulations, increased awareness, and promoting responsible filmmaking. Filmmakers play a crucial role in shaping societal norms, and a conscientious approach can help mitigate the promotion of tobacco use in movies. Balancing creative freedom with public health considerations is essential to ensure that movies remain a vehicle for entertainment and inspiration without endorsing harmful behaviours.

Platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video and Showmax providing streaming services on the go, contribute to tobacco promotion through various channels. One key avenue is product placement within popular shows and movies. As characters smoke on screen, they glamourize tobacco use, potentially influencing viewers, particularly the younger demographic. The normalization of smoking in entertainment content serves as indirect advertising for tobacco products.

One population segment the tobacco industry continues to aggressively target is young people. The industry uses movies to portray smoking as cool and sophisticated, luring young people to trying tobacco. It is important to note that these efforts to normalize tobacco on screen can lead to increased smoking initiation, addiction, and long-term health harms.

Campaigns such as the #SmokeFreeNollywood campaign have through engagements with stakeholders in Nollywood and regulatory bodies such as the National Film and Video Censors’ Board (NFVCB) consistently called for urgent action to nip tobacco glamourization in the traditional Nollywood and on digital or Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms.

It is worthy to note that the third edition of the Digital Content Regulation Conference organized by NFVCB held recently in Lagos; practitioners and platforms such as Netflix and Prime Video were brought together to ensure compliance with Nigeria’s local laws. This is a step in the right direction and would also have been an ample opportunity to further the conversation on compliance with Nigeria’s smoke-free-movie laws.

India’s Bollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood share many similarities, and both are entertainment giants in their own rights. However, while smoke-free regulations are applied strictly to movies produced or watched in India, Nigeria is yet to achieve this, presenting an opportunity for regulators and practitioners to set the pace in Africa and maintain Nigeria’s global standing as a movie industry leader.

The importance of collaboration between government bodies, the movie industry, and public health organizations to protect the well-being of the Nigerian population cannot be overstated.
Paul Ashibel works with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, and he writes from Abuja.

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