By Abiose Adelaja Adams
Two days to his handing over to a new government, President Goodluck Jonathan has finally signed the anti-tobacco bill into law.
This, anti-tobacco control activists have said, is a major achievement for his administration and a demonstration of his priority for the public health of the people.
“It has been a very long journey. We started this campaign since 12 years, but now Jonathan has handed us a public health legacy. We now have a tool that can be used to reduce smoking and its associated public health effects in Nigeria,” said director Corporate Accountability Campaigns, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi.
Earlier in the month, the Senate had passed the Bill for an Act to provide for the regulation, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco or tobacco products in Nigeria. Since then it had remained on the president’s table awaiting his signature up until Wednesday, said Reuben Abati, Presidential spokesman, through his twitter handle.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the coalition of tobacco control advocates comprising the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, ERA/FoEN and Nigeria Tobacco Control Coalition, NTCA, commended the President and members of the 7th National Assembly for fast –tracking the legislative process so that it was ready for the President’s assent.
CISLAC executive director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the presidential accent to the bill is a remarkable step in efforts to protect the Nigerian people from the dangerous effects of smoking.
“We salute the courage of President Jonathan in signing this bill to law, ignoring overtures by the tobacco industry to frustrate every effort to enact comprehensive tobacco control legislation in Nigeria.”
Oluwafemi noted that “though there is no perfect bill, more work needs to be done in ensuring that every Nigerian is protected from the harmful effects of tobacco. This bill is however providing Nigeria the necessary framework for action both at the local, state and national levels.”
Consumer Rights Association CRA’s Lanre Oginni said it is long overdue.
“It is a credit to his government which means he is conscious of a healthy and cleaner environment,” he said.
Even then, he urged government to immediately ignite processes and mechanisms that will ensure effective implementation of the Law.
“We want to thank Mr. President for signing the bill into law. The immediate action should be on implementation. We want to see the Ministry of Health rising up to the occasion by leading all stakeholders for effective implementation of the law.
The National Tobacco Control Bill which is a domestication of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC, will ensure effective regulation and control of production, manufacture, sale, labeling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco and tobacco products in Nigeria.
Furthermore, its ascent will ensure balance between the economic consideration and the health implications of tobacco manufacture and use and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and establish appropriate government organs to coordinate the execution of the proposed legislation, prescribing punishments for those who flout the provisions of the legislation.
It has also repealed the existing Tobacco Smoking (Control) Act, CAP.T6, LFN 2004’’, enacted in 1990 and amended years later.
Nigeria along with 178 WHO member countries ratified the Convention in 2005. This places the onus on member countries to have domestic laws in their various countries to control tobacco which is reported to be in epidemic proportions killing more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
For ten years, Nigeria still had no such law until now because the bill suffered many setbacks due to what advocates called the ‘lobbying’ of the tobacco companies mainly the British American Tobacco, BAT.
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.
Oluwafemi said it is long overdue. “This seventh National Assembly intensified work on the bill and this key issues presented 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 a statement signed by Freddy Messanvi, West African Area Director of BAT Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, last year, he said “we are not averse to a balanced, fact-based, tobacco regulation which is enforceable and will not lead to unintended consequences such as tobacco smuggling.”
However, BAT’s main defence has been the benefit of tobacco to Nigerians in terms of job creation and the USD 150million MoU it signed with the federal government in 2,000, during former president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to build a modern factory in Ibadan