By Chikezie Omeje
Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, have raised alarm over dubious schemes by tobacco companies to derail the implementation of the National Tobacco Control, NTC Act , signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The CSOs at a media briefing on Thursday in Abuja accused the tobacco industry of coercing government officials to advocate on their behalf, interfering in policy making through trade committees and third parties, and aggressively lobbying and bribing policymakers.
Presenting the group’s position, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said delay in the full implementation of the NTC Act is being exploited by the tobacco industry which is aggressively targeting the huge youth population in the country.
NTC Act has not been implemented after two years of being signed into law as the Ministry of Health through the National Tobacco Control Committee, NATOCC, is still working out modalities for the implementation of the Act.
The ACT empowers the Ministry of Health to regulate the tobacco industry in line with the public health policy.
However, Oluwafemi said a suspicious bill in the National Assembly, sponsored by Dickson Tarkighir, representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives is seeking to amend and whittle down the NTC Act of 2015.
He said the new bill which enjoys the backing of tobacco industry seeks removal of vital sections of the Act and to vest the implementation of the NTC Act with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
Oluwafemi said the tobacco industry has been making relentless effort to frustrate the implementation of NTC Act 2015, noting that the Act has the potential to save millions of Nigerians from tobacco-induced illnesses and deaths and put Nigeria on the map of nations that have effective tobacco control policies in place.
He accused tobacco companies of planting moles in ministries of government that have anything to do with tobacco control policy, adding that a confidential document relating to the implementing guidelines and regulations for the NTC Act at the Ministry of Justice was recently leaked to tobacco companies.
The group urged government, particularly the Ministry of Health not to be intimidated as it works on resolutions for the effective implementation of the NTC Act.
Also speaking, Hilda Ochefu, Sub-Regional Coordinator-West Africa of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the failure to implement the Act after two years harms Nigerians who deserved to be protected from the dangers of being exposed to tobacco smoking which has been found to cause cancer.
“Even though some people might argue that they have a right to smoke but other people have the right to clean air,” Ochefu said.
She said it is the responsibility of government to protect the public health of the citizens as cancer is on the rise in Nigeria. According to Ochefu, the increasing use of tobacco in Nigeria is caused by non-implementation of tobacco control policies, adding that evidence has shown that tobacco use is declining in countries with strong implementation of tobacco control policies.
She lamented that a lot of African countries would sign global treaties on tobacco control but do little or nothing to protect their citizens afterward, adding that tobacco companies are aggressively moving into Africa to capture the growing youth population in the continent.
Emoruwa Adewumnmi, Chief Operating Officer of Gatefield said tobacco companies are using subtle means to market their products in the country by sponsoring events, studies and building of health facilities in the guise of corporate social responsibility.
He pointed out that tobacco companies sponsor artists to use tobacco smoking in their music videos and movies, stressing that Nigerians should resist such artistic promotion of tobacco.