Nigeria Should Be Firm with Anti-tobacco Laws – IPPA

WITH pomp and pageantry, the 2017 World No Tobacco Day was celebrated last week. The theme of this year’s day is tagged: “Tobacco-A Threat to Development.” In Africa, Nigeria has made a substantial progress with the enactment and passage of National Tobacco Control Act, NTCA, (2015).

This Act is a customized version of the 2005 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC, which is aimed at addressing the perceived concerns relating to production and marketing of tobacco products.

The passage and signing of the NTCA presents a far-reaching step to ensure a balanced and fair way to address whatever concerns remain in the production and sales of tobacco products in Nigeria. Groups such as Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, which once spearheaded and hailed the passage of the Act are pointing fingers at others for its non-implementation.

“The implementation of the Act is within the ambit of the executive branch to enforce whatever regulations that are contained in the bill. It is erroneous to blame industry players for the Act’s non-implementation. It is ironic that rather than liaising with the appropriate organ of government to understand the non-implementation of NTCA, anti-tobacco groups are now blaming the same industry for its non-implementation. Beyond mere slogans and fear tactics, industry players have always insisted on regulations that are fair, credible and enforceable,” says Thompson Ayodele, executive director of Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, IPPA.

The slogan, World No Tobacco Day, is at variance with the realities and people’s preference to any product not just to tobacco but to other products.Groups opposing tobacco presupposes that its production and consumption should be banned. Such willful thinking should it be achieved will erode the progress already made in the sector.  What is sensible is to come up with policy alternatives that can strengthen the existing ones.

Rather than pursing this route, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, have been involved in data mining and cherry-picking. The top three killer diseases (Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Diarrhea) show no direct or near correlation with the consumption of the tobacco products. This calls into question the credibility of data released on the number of people who will supposedly be affected by smoking in the year 2025.

Ayodele continued: “Of course the health concerns of Nigerians should not be treated with a kid-glove. Every responsible government will want its population to be healthy. However, banning a legal product has its unintended consequences because people will explore other avenues to get the same products no matter how illegal. This will pose a significant threat to Nigeria’s development not just in terms of loss of revenue that legitimate businesses pay; the activities of smugglers could further exacerbate the complex security challenge in Nigeria and further increase criminals’ nefarious activities.

“We are all living witnesses to when a ban was placed on the importation of rice which lead to the increase in smugglers’ activities. Rather than resorting to name calling, groups opposed to the tobacco industry should come up with evidence based solutions not merely engaging in arguments based on emotions and fear-factors, or parroting what their funders intended.”

Regulations of products such as tobacco and alcohol all over the world have always been stringent. In the case of Nigeria, tobacco advertisements and other related marketing activities have been prohibited since the 1990s which the industry has complied. The implementation of the regulations are at the behest of government not the industry operators.

With the World No Tobacco Day just celebrated, Nigeria, as a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, they should ensure that local laws that are consistent with WHO framework are enforced by relevant organs of government. It is sheer ignorance to blame industry operators for non-implementation.

—  Jun 5, 2017 @ 15:00 GMT