NTCA Nigeria

A Chat With Hilda Ochefu

Sub-Regional Coordinator for West Africa, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK)

To celebrate the 2023 International Women’s Day, we had an interesting chat with Hilda Ochefu, one of Nigeria’s frontline tobacco control advocates. Follow our conversation below.

Q. What has your general experience in tobacco control been?

“It’s been very interesting. Since my tobacco control journey started mid 2012, a lot of progress has been made not just in Nigeria but on the African continent as countries continue to pass and implement their tobacco control laws and policies. I feel fortunate to have witnessed the staggering amount of work that has been done and the progress that have been achieved.”

Q. How have people (both male & female) reacted to you being a TC advocate in Nigeria?

“I would say the reaction has been mixed. First off, I am not just an advocate, I have led CTFK’s work in Nigeria and the sub-region since 2012. So, sometimes people don’t quite know what to make of me not just as an advocate but also as a female leader. This is against the backdrop of the fact that in tobacco control, there have not really been a lot of female advocates (not to mention female leaders) before I came on board. In our region, because of gender stereotypes, female leaders are under much more pressure so it’s crucial to let the results of the work speak for itself. The work has to be of the highest standard possible.”

Q. Does your passion for tobacco control originate from a personal experience?

“Yes, my Granddad died from tobacco use. He was a heavy user of snuff for decades and eventually died of cancer. Until I joined CTFK, I did not know that there was a link between his tobacco use and eventual death.”

Q. In the next 10 years will tobacco be a thing of the past or the struggle is a longer journey?

“This fight is sure to continue for a very long time. Tobacco has been around for over a century, and we are no longer talking about just smoked tobacco. Tobacco companies have been innovating themselves and their products to ensure that they continue the cycle of addiction and death while staying ahead of governments’ efforts to protect the public health of their citizens.”

Q. Do you think tobacco use by women is an expression of equal rights (Like, what men can do, women can do better)?

“I don’t think so at all. For generations, tobacco companies have targeted women; making them believe that consuming tobacco equals emancipation, beauty and glamour, all of which is nonsense. Also, modernization and changes in the role and economic status of women have made it much more possible (and easier) for tobacco companies to target them directly and aggressively.”

Q. What role has technology played in tobacco control?

“From a tobacco control perspective, I would say that technology has been instrumental in ensuring that efforts by advocates are given the visibility they deserve while making it possible for mass awareness creation to be carried out on platforms like twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Advocates have also effectively used technology to carry out capacity building and peer to peer learning activities in real time across different regions and time zones.”

Q. Do women play a role in the increase in tobacco use (For instance, women who are models, actresses and figures that people follow and look up to)?

“Both men and women are equally responsible for the increase in tobacco use especially amongst young people. For models, actors, actresses, influencers, etc, they obviously have a huge responsibility to ensure that they are positive role models for young people. Being an influential person has to come with some good level of responsibility so there’s need for these individuals to use their platforms as a force for good.”

Q. What advice do you have for young women and youths in general?

“For tobacco companies, you are potential replacement consumers; tobacco in any form has zero health benefit, what it can only do is lead you on a deadly path of addiction.”

Interviewer: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Happy International Women’s Day!

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