Activists Call For Enactment Of Stricter Anti-Tobacco Policies

By Abiose Adelaja Adams

The coalition of advocacy groups promoting the enactment of effective tobacco control legislation has called on the National Assembly to shun the influence of tobacco companies, as it takes further steps to pass the Tobacco Control Bill into law.

Made up of the Civil Society Legislative Center (CISLAC), Environmental Action/Friends of the Earth(ERA/FoEN) and the Nigerian Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), the coalition, stated this at a public hearing convened by the House Committee on Health, in Abuja on Wednesday.

The coalition recommended the setting up of a National Tobacco Control Committee and that the “Minister of Health or his appointed representative as the Chairman of the Committee.”

“We reject suggestions from certain quarters that the Committee should include the Manufactures Association of Nigeria. The inclusion of MAN is allowing the tobacco industry through the back door,” the groups stated.

The coalition said it supports a “complete ban of smoking in all indoor and designated outdoor public places”, and that it rejects “the inclusion of Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs) in the bill since such measures negate the spirit and intent of the bill which is the reduction of smoking.”

The groups consider the current warnings on cigarette packs, “smokers are liable to die young”, as not explicit enough and therefore recommend a “warning message which should include pictograms and pictures should cover minimum of 74 per cent of the principal display areas.”

Akinbode Oluwafemi, spokesperson for ERA/FoEN, on the anti smoking campaign, conceded that the seventh National Assembly has intensified work on the bill and that the key issues being canvassed are in the pursuit of a national legislation that is effective in reducing deaths, disease and economic losses associated with tobacco use, a law that places premium on public health above profit motives of the tobacco industry.

In addition, the coalition is calling for stiff Penalties,

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“We recommended that corporate offenders should get minimum of N10,000,000 fine or two years imprisonment or both while Individuals should be fined N100,000 or two months imprisonment or both.”

Also peaking to the icirnigeria.org on the anti smoking campaign, Hilda Ochefu, West African sub regional coordinator of the ‘Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids’, said that Nigeria urgently needs a tobacco control law for many reasons, key amongnwhich is to safeguard the health of young people.

“Half of smokers started as teenagers. that is the target of the tobacco industry, they like to catch them young, that girl or boy will yearn for more nicotine in cigarette. That is why we need a national tobacco control law in Nigeria quickly because we need to protect our young people, our women, all the citizens. this is about public health and protecting millions of Nigerians who will die from second hand smoke if laws are not put in place.”

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

Research shows that tobacco is the only legally available product which kills more than half of its users when consumed as intended by the manufacturer.

WHO states that it kills nearly 6 million people annually with more than five million of those deaths a result of direct smoke while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second hand smoke.

A 2011 survey conducted by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health reveals that about 250,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer every year. Yet scientists have proven tobacco to contain 69 known carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) and a highly addictive nicotine that harms every organ of the body. Smoking is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn child. It is estimated to cause 71 per cent of lung cancers deaths, 42 per cent world of chronic respiratory disease, nearly 10 per cent of deaths from tuberculosis and 12 per cent from lower respiratory infections, according to WHO.

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It is reported that tobacco caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century and if current trends continue, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million per year by 2030.

The reason Africa is in focus now is because smoking has decreased in high income countries, thus the tobacco industry is now turning to low and middle income countries with loose regulations to recruit new users. Hence the urgent need for stricter and comprehensive control policies.

To this effect, the Network of African Science Academies in 2013, after a strategic meeting in Uganda, agreed on the need for African countries to strengthen legislation on the WHO framework and protect the public from misleading and deception from the tobacco industry.

Provisions of the Bill.

The National Tobacco Control Bill which is currently in three versions before the House of representatives and the Senate, is the domestication of the WHO-adopted Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is the world’s first global public health treaty, developed in response to the global tobacco epidemic and reaffirms the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of health.

The treaty was adopted in 2003 and it entered into force in February 2005 with more than 178 WHO member states as Parties to the convention.

It provisions are to regulate the manufacturing, advertising distribution and consumption of tobacco products in Nigeria

Other provisions include the comprehensive bans on advertising and sponsorship; accurate and visible warnings about health dangers of tobacco on cigarette labels, carrying out programs that provide economically viable alternatives for tobacco farmers, which may be integrated into existing programs, effective use of taxes on tobacco and integration of the ill-effects of tobacco into the curricula of health promotion in primary and secondary schools to promote greater awareness of such information.

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In response to what it calls pressure against it, the British American Tobacco, which controls 80 per cent of the tobacco industry in Nigeria, put an advertorial in the Guardian on Monday claiming that manufacturers are being denied their right.

“We are worried about the aggressive lobbying of stakeholder within the country to exclude the company from making inputs into the development and implementation of policies which will affect it,” reads the advertorial signed by Freddy Messanvi, West African Area Director of the company’s Corporate and Regulatory Affairs.

“It is imperative that tobacco control policies be developed in an open, transparent and consultative manner involving all stakeholders including the tobacco industry,” he adds.

“They will fight back, for them it is about money. They don’t sleep and they don’t rest,” Ochefu, says. Continuing, she said that tobacco producers “are unhappy that Nigeria is putting in place this law, but we are on the right side of the argument, because we are talking about the public health of millions of Nigerians. This is about health and not about profits.”

She said that the campaign “is not about fighting the tobacco industry. We are not fighting anybody.”

Nigeria signed FCTC in 2004 and ratified it in 2005. A major attempt at putting in place the law was in 2011 when the Bill was passed by the senate and House of Representatives. That version failed to get presidential assent.

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