“I am a threat to tobacco”-AdvocateACTA
In 2009, Mrs. Margaret Kwaada Julius, a 47-year-old grandmother became a tobacco advocate by chance. Stumbling on the information that, “tobacco kills half its users’’ further reinforced her resolve to dedicate quality time to sensitizing people on the harmful effects of the deadly substance on health and the environment.
Presently she says, “I am a threat to tobacco.”
The founder and president of the Eye-Opener Women and Youth Foundation, Mrs Julius is also the recipient of the 2022 World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) Award from the World Health Organization, a recognition of her significant contribution to the field of tobacco control.
Recounting what motivated her to become an advocate against tobacco use, she said it began out of a humanitarian act within her neighbourhood.
A resident of Kaduna State in Northwest Nigeria, “I noticed this psychologically challenged woman with two children and no place to live, smoking by the roadside. Moved by her plight and danger that her smoking posed to her innocent children, I decided to move close and talk to her about quitting the habit. Thereafter, she would quickly put out her cigarette anytime she sighted me. Subsequently, she gave up smoking altogether. That singular act motivated me that I could be a change agent for other smokers,” she said.
In Nigeria, the 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) indicates that 5.6% (4.5 million) Nigerians 15 years and older currently use tobacco products, of which 3.9% (3.1 million) are current smokers.
Fighting against the deadly menace of tobacco use, Nigeria in 2005 signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and enacted the National Tobacco Control Act to implement the framework in 2015. WHO supports the e the country to meet its FCTC obligations.
To be part of the battle against tobacco use, Mrs Julius wanted her contribution to count. “I had always wanted to do something to educate people about the harmful effects of smoking or using tobacco products and substance use. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to go about it until my encounter with that woman. My encounter with her was the turning point, and it strengthened my resolve that if a psychologically challenged person can stop smoking, then anyone can..
Since the inception of the Eye-Opener Women and Youth Foundation in 2009, more than 500 adolescents and youth across communities in three states (Adamawa, Kaduna and Plateau State) have been sensitized to quit smoking.
“We target them because that is the formative age when they make decisions that can affect their lives positively or negatively. Arming them with correct information will enable them to make informed decisions as we have seen children smoking at the age of 11. They imitate the habit because they see adults do it”, Mrs Juius says.
According to her, youth clubs operate in Kaduna and Adamawa States, with over 50 volunteering adolescents and young people, have become tobacco control ambassadors in their communities. Furthermore, they use the knowledge they have garnered to mobilize their peers against negative health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of tobacco production and use.
In her work towards tobacco control, Mrs Julius has faced numerous challenges, enough to deter her from pursuing the noble path but she said the WHO award is an incentive and charges her team to keep going and escalate the message against tobacco use.
In Nigeria, WHO in collaboration with the European Respiratory Society, supported the Federal Ministry of Health in 2018 to implement a pilot project on brief tobacco interventions in selected health facilities in the Federal Capital Territory.
Also, the country began taxing tobacco products and implementing the Graphic Health Warning in 2021, which replaces the warning text “The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young”.