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Promoting Good Governance.

No Tobacco Day: Warning smokers of dying young is ineffectual, but sanctions are not

Cigarette smokers do not care how long they will live or the health risks associated with smoking. If they do, nobody will be a tobacco smoker in Nigeria.

On any pack of cigarette sold in Nigeria, there is a boldly written caveat: “The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young”. Rather than this admonition dissuading smokers, more Nigerians are getting hooked on tobacco.

“One thing must kill you,” young Nigerian smokers often quip. And certainly tobacco is killing many Nigerians, including those who do not smoke but stay around those who do – second-hand smoke effect.

In December 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that about 5.6 percent of adults and 15.4 percent of youths currently use tobacco in Nigeria.  Also the same year, Tobacco Atlas estimated that about 16,100 Nigerians die each year from tobacco-related diseases.

Tobacco use is a global problem and it causes more than seven million deaths every year, according to WHO.  And close to 900 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.  Over the years, accumulated scientific evidence shows that tobacco smoking is a leading cause of heart disease.

According to Nigeria Health Watch, tobacco smoking is associated with almost every non-communicable disease, and is the leading cause of death in the world. It is responsible for about 90 percent of lung cancer in the United States; it is also a leading cause of oesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, cancer of the bladder, kidney cancer and others.

The focus of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco and heart disease” meant to draw attention to these diseases caused by tobacco use.

Since warning smokers about death and disease has not curbed tobacco use, implementing tough sanctions against the tobacco industry has been very effective in reducing tobacco use in many countries.

More than a decade after the adoption of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Nigeria has not implemented it but evidence shows that countries that have implemented the convention are witnessing remarkable reduction in tobacco use.

TOBACCO COMPANIES FIGHT BACK

National Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2015 but three years after, the law has not been implemented to a level that will curb tobacco use.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have accused tobacco companies of derailing the implementation of the act by coercing government officials to advocate on their behalf, interfering in policy making through trade committees and third parties, and aggressively lobbying and bribing policymakers.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told the ICIR last year that the delay in the full implementation of the act is being exploited by the tobacco industry which is aggressively targeting the huge youth population in the country.

The act empowers the Federal Ministry of Health to regulate tobacco use in line with the public health policy.

At the celebration of last year’s World No Tobacco Day, Isaac Adewole, announced a nine new regulations for tobacco use in the country. One year after, there is no evidence of implementation of the policy. The new regulations are:

  1. Prohibition of the sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below age 18.
  2. Ban of sale of cigarettes in single sticks; cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20 sticks only.
  3. Smokeless tobacco shall be sold in a minimum of a pack of 30 grammes.
  4. Ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet, or other online devices.
  5. Prohibition of interference of tobacco industry in public health and related issues.
  6. Prohibition of smoking in anywhere on the premises of a child care facility, educational facility, and healthcare facility. Other prohibited for smoking include playgrounds, amusement parks, plazas, public parks, stadia, public transport, restaurants’ bar, and other public gathering spaces.
  7. Prosecution of owner or manager of any of the places listed above who permits, encourages or fails to stop smoking in the above listed places.
  8. Prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of any kind.
  9. Compliance with specified standards for content.

TOUGHER MEASURES NEEDED

On Monday next week, Nigeria will begin to implement a new excise duty rates on tobacco. In addition to the existing 20 percent ad-valorem rate, each stick of cigarette will attract N1 specific rate: (N20 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2018; N2 specific rate per stick (N40 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2019 and N2.90k specific rate per stick (N58 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2020.

Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance, announced in March that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved three-month grace period to all local manufacturers of tobacco before the commencement of the new excise duty regime.

Adeosun said the review of the excise duty rates for tobacco was necessitated by the need to raise the government’s fiscal revenues and reduce the health hazards associated with tobacco-related diseases.

When the new tax rates begin on Monday, Nigeria’s cumulative specific excise duty rate for tobacco will be 23.2 percent of the price of the most sold brand, lower than what operates in Algeria, South Africa and The Gambia which have 38.14 percent, 36.52 percent and 30 percent respectively.

The new tax rates still fall short of WHO recommendation of 70% excise on tobacco products

While anti-tobacco campaigners agreed that raising tobacco prices substantially through taxation is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco use and save lives, they pointed out that the new tax rates should have been higher.

Oluwafemi urged the government to match the rates in Nigeria with that of other countries across Africa if the aims are to be achieved in record time.

“One more thing government can do is to recoup all previously unpaid taxes, tax waivers and tax grants that tobacco companies have illegally benefited under previous governments,” he added.

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