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ENFORCING TOBACCO CONTROL LAWS IS EVERYONE’S DUTY!

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Speech by Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) at a press conference in Lagos ERA/FoEN office on January 22, 2018

INTRODUCTION

Gentlemen and ladies of the Press,

We cannot start talking about emerging issues in tobacco control in 2018 without first commending your exhaustive reportage of the sector and the dangers inherent in a regime of delayed implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act three years after the bill was signed into law. Your sustained media mention and scrutiny of the issues last year was crucial to exposing the tobacco industry’s tactics of addicting our kids to smoking, and getting the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole’s to announce commencement of the enforcement  nine key provisions of the Act which do not require regulations.

Despite our wish to have a prosperous and smoke-free New Year, a quick analysis of some of the activities of the tobacco corporations as 2017 drew to a close show that the industry is unrepentant and will continue operating with the same impunity in 2018 unless concrete actions are taken to checkmate their activities by all levels of government.

While the infractions continue unchecked, we can mention a few very shocking expose on the industry last year. A Guardian UK report in August 2017 accused British America Tobacco (BAT) of paying militias instead of taxes to governments, introducing illegally huge amounts of money into war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo for fraudulent transactions, collaborating with rebel groups to conduct business, and providing firearms to its employees, among others, while it still claims to adhere to the highest business and ethical standards. 

Philip Morris International was even more covert and daring. A Reuters report linked the tobacco giant to years of a secret global campaign to undermine the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC). It was also enmeshed in controversies of  a so-called Foundation for a Smoke-free World which it announced it would fund to the tune of $80 million over a period of 12 years. It is remarkable that the WHO distanced itself from that foundation and asked global governments to do same.

Here in Africa the same Philip Morris International funded a training of senior journalists in Kenya, aimed at misinforming the media and the general public, using concepts that seem tailored to reducing tobacco harms but in reality undermined efforts by governments to implement effective tobacco control policies.

With such octopus-like operations to thwart life-saving laws across Africa it becomes more clearer why the tobacco control community hailed the planned enforcement of the NTC Act as announced by the health minister.

To refresh our memories, the provisions are:

·         Prohibition of sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below 18.

·         Ban of sale of cigarettes in single sticks. Cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20 sticks only.

·         Smokeless tobacco shall be sold in a minimum of a pack of 30 grams.

·         Ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet or other online devices

·         Prohibition of interference of tobacco industry in public health and related issues.

·         Prohibition of smoking in anywhere on the premises of a child care facility; educational facility; and health care facility. Other prohibited places for smoking include playgrounds; amusement parks; plazas; public parks; stadium, public transports, restaurants, bars, or other public gathering spaces.

·         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.

·         Prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of any kind; and

·         Compliance with specified standard for content as set out by Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).

But we will be deceiving ourselves if we assume that the tobacco industry will fold its arms and watch this happen.

THE CURRENT REALITY

As you all may have noticed, since after the minister’s announcement of the nine provisions of the Act for enforcement things have been rather quiet. We had anticipated that by now the federal government would have commenced serious public education and begun clampdown on violations.

 

 

ENTER THE SHISHA EXPERIMENT

The ingenuity of the tobacco industry never ceases to amaze us. Aside cigarettes, a growing fad among the youth is water-pipe tobacco otherwise known as shisha. It may interest you to know that while the promoters of shisha are very silent on the constituents, medical experts have warned that the content of shisha, like cigarettes, includes nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic, lead and other poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals and some contain heroin and cocaine.

Just like cigarettes, the side effects of smoking shisha may not be immediately noticeable. But with time, the toxic vapors slowly damage vital organs of the body of the smoker, culminating in illnesses and death.

As we speak, Kano, Lagos Abuja, Port Harcourt and other cities across the country now have thriving shisha bars patronized by the elite, celebrities and supposed role models who not only smoke the product, but also circulate pictures and videos of their shisha parties on social media, feeling cool and hype.

IN VIEW OF THE ABOVE, OUR KEY ASKS ARE:

·         Government at all levels begin enforcement of the nine  key provisions of the NTC Act that do not require regulations such as smoke-free public places, restriction on underage access and ban of sale in single sticks, among others. Since health is on the concurrent legislative list, the states and local governments must not wait for the government at the center to enforce the NTC Act. States and local governments must no longer wait for the federal government before acting. The lacuna that exists in regard to enforcement of the NTC Act is being exploited by the tobacco industry to evolve newer tactics of marketing their products and addict our kids.

·         Relevant agencies of government such as the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and security services begin a clampdown on infractions

·         Need for mass public education to be spearheaded by the Federal Ministry of Health in concert with the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should commence without delay

·         The Federal Ministry of Health should urgently send the draft Regulations to the National Assembly for  approval as soon as they receive.

·         Nigeria should imitate Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda that have banned shisha use and shisha bars

Delay is dangerous. The enforcement of the NTC Act is not solely the responsibility of the federal government. It is everyone’s duty!

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