By Abiose Adelaja Adams
Anti-tobacco campaign groups have voiced their displeasure at the tobacco Industry’s subtle wiles to weaken the legislation against cigarette smoking in Nigeria.
The groups, including Environmental Rights Action, ERA, Earth Care Foundation and Nigeria Alliance for Tobacco Control, demanded a stop to the Industry’s lobbying activities, while urging the National Assembly to be steadfast in ensuring the life-saving provisions of the Tobacco Control Law remain intact.
They noted that after a successful public hearing on July 16, which brought the Tobacco Control Bill closer to passage into law, there has been an increase in the activities of the Industry to thwart the implementation of the ban of smoking in Lagos and undermine the passage of the new legislation.
Some of the tobacco industry’s lobbying activities also come in the guise of corporate social responsibility which has seen them partnering with public institutions with the sole aim of furthering their interest.
These institutions include the Nigerian Custom Service, NCS, the Nigerian Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
With the Customs, the industry claims to be partnering with the Service to stop illicit trade in cigarettes.
Also, last month, British American Tobacco Nigeria, BATN, which controls 80 per cent of Tobacco market share in the country, conducted training for the Policemen on “Understanding the Lagos State Regulation of Smoking Law”.
The training which took place at the Police Officers’ Wives Association, POWA, Multi-purpose hall, Ikeja, Lagos, was well attended by senior officers.
The director of corporate accountability and administration at ERA and spokesperson for the anti-tobacco group Akinbode Oluwafemi, said this “is just bribery in the name of training. The Police does not have the legal status to accept the training because issues of tobacco control and public health are under the directive of the Federal Ministry of Health.”
The industry is also reported to have conducted empowerment training for officials of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, on enforcing ban of smoking in public places.
“It is simply absurd,” said Oluwafemi. “For the tobacco industry to be training law enforcement officers is like getting mosquitoes to provide cure services for malaria,” he added.
According to him, with such gestures, tobacco industry players can never be sincere as they would do everything to protect their profit making motives at the expense of the public health good.
Lagos State is one of the few states in the country that have passed a law against smoking in public places.
The National Tobacco Control Bill, which is currently in three versions before the House of Representatives and the Senate, is the domestication of the World Health Organization-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 came into force in February 2005 with more than 178 WHO member states as parties to the convention. Its provisions are to regulate the manufacturing, advertising, distribution and consumption of tobacco products in Nigeria
Another activity the group said has been on the rise is the daily advertorials by tobacco products manufacturers in Nigerian newspaper. According to Olusegun Tinka of Earth Care Foundation, “they are misleading Nigerians by taking different sections of the bill and misinterpreting it, distorting and spreading fears about how many Nigerians will lose their jobs if smoking is banned and how raising taxes on tobacco products, which is one of the provisions of the bill, will encourage smuggling of cigarettes.
In the light of these events, the anti-smoking advocacy group reiterated its earlier call on the House of Representative Health committee to adopt higher taxes and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption because of its proven ability to discourage smoking. It demanded a complete ban on tobacco advertisements, promotion and sponsorship.
“The time to stand firm on passing a strong and implementable National Tobacco Control Bill is now,” Oluwafemi insisted, adding: “We want the House to create smoke free work places, public places, public transport, for public health good.”
According to the WHO tobacco 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.
The groups also demanded prominent graphic health warnings of up to 75 per cent of principal display areas and exclusion of tobacco industry from tobacco control policies and implementation.
The federal ministry of Health has said that about 250,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer every year. Likewise scientists have proven tobacco to contain 69 known carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) and highly addictive nicotine that harms every organ of the body.