The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation is sponsoring an anti-smoking campaign in the country to get young girls and women to stay off the use of tobacco.The campaign, known as SKY Girls, which was launched in Accra recently, is being implemented in Ghana by Now Available Africa, a pan-African agency based in Accra, in collaboration with Good Business, a private United Kingdom (UK)-based consulting company that works to drive positive change for society and organisations.
The two-year campaign is aimed at empowering girls and building a resilient generation of young women through getting young girls to support themselves and to prevent them from getting involved in smoking.
With the direct link between smoking, cancer and ill-health becoming even clearer, countries around the world are desperately trying to find answers, and the SKY Girls initiative has in the past three years recorded success in Botswana and Uganda.
Global Tobacco Survey
Ghana has, traditionally, had one of the lowest rates of tobacco use in Africa, but the trend is said to be changing in recent times. The latest Global Tobacco Survey showed that while two per cent of adult women smoked tobacco as of 2009, the rate had increased, with 10.6 per cent of girls aged between 13 and 15 using some form of tobacco product.
The latest tobacco product which is said to be catching on with a lot of young girls is ‘shisha’, which is being heavily marketed as a product for, what is termed as, ‘cool and sophisticated girls’.
At an interaction programme with the press in Accra, the Project Coordinator, and Director of Business Development at Now Available Africa, Ms Venus Tawiah, said the programme, aimed at effecting behavioural change, was part of a global anti-tobacco campaign, pointing out that Now Available Africa had been tasked to develop exciting and impactful programmes tailored to the unique needs and interests of teenage girls in Ghana.
The campaign, she said, would promote the smoke-free message in the context of the things that teens cared about, such as fashion, friends and music.
“SKY Girls initiative encourages girls to be clear on their values and then supports them in staying true to themselves, including their wish to stay clear of smoking,” she said.
The Strategist Officer of Now Available Africa, Ms Ivy Aning, explained that the campaign would mainly target girls between the ages of 13 and 15 and adopt an innovative mobile strategy to support activities online, radio and through the distribution of free quarterly magazines in some selected schools.
At the official lunch of the event, a free musical concert that featured artistes such as Mzvee, Yaa Yaa and Adoma took place at the Aviation Social Centre last Saturday.
In order to develop an approach that would fit local markets and the specific audience, Ms Aning said, the organisation undertook a study and spoke to teenage girls in some parts of Africa and also in Accra “to understand their world and what was driving them to smoke”.
During the study, she said, some of the factors which were found to drive young girls into the habit of smoking included social inclusion, girls trying to find their identity and express themselves and also their perception that their friends were the only people who really understood what they were going through.
According to Ms Aning, “The health risks of smoking are understood but they do not matter. The teens want to fit in and belong to a special class, and also express themselves. They think cool people smoke and they don’t know how to say no.”
Through the campaign which will include radio programmes and mentoring of the young girls, Ms Aning said, the teens would have opportunities to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be, to express themselves, connect with others and build their confidence.
The teens, according to Ms Aning, would also be supported to make choices that were in line with their own values.
To support the central theme of the campaign which is “True to myself”, young girls are asked to make a commitment and pledge to be true to themselves, thinking about the things they want in their lives and the things they are good without.
The pledge reads: “I pledge to be true to myself and what I believe in. To be who I am, not who someone else thinks I should be. I’ll hold tight to the things I’m all about – like friends, and dancing. And I’ll stay away from ‘yawa’ things I know I’m good without – like backstabbing and smoking. Because knowing what’s my thing and what’s not my thing helps make me who I am. I will make choices that are true to me. I pledge to find my SKY.