Abuja — The Senate’s decision to commence public hearing last week on the Nigeria National Tobacco Control (NNTC ) bill, which is aimed at domesticating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ( FCTC ) has once again brought to the fore the debate on the societal cost of tobacco production and consumption in Nigeria. Nigeria ratified the FCTC treaty in 2005, but little is being done to regulate tobacco production and consumption in the country.
Sponsored by Senator Olorunnibe Mamora ( AC, Lagos ), the proposed law which is an upgrade of the existing, but defective Tobacco Control Act of 1990 seeks to control the production, sale and use of tobacco products in the country. The bill would also, among other provisions, seeks to regulate the involvement of tobacco companies in corporate social responsibility ( CSR ), a tool many tobacco firms use as part of the arguments to justify their presence in any community. More interesting is the provision which requires tobacco firms to go beyond the written warnings on cigarette packs, to using picture of people harmed by smoking, and this will occupy at least one- third of the pack to warn consumers. Similarly, if the bill is passed, it will be against the law to sell tobacco products within one kilometre of churches, mosques, schools and hospitals.
Indeed, over the years, attempt by pressure groups to convince governments at all levels to take stringent measures against tobacco production and its consumption fell on deaf ears following spirited fight from tobacco firms and other pro-tobacco lobbyists who argued that such actions would lead to the loss of 500,000 jobs across the country. But as the Senate president, David Mark pointed out at the public hearing, “Although the tobacco industry is economically significant, it is only the living that can enjoy the wealth”. It is against this background that we support the proposed bill, more so that it is coming at a time when some state governments have taken the initiative to institute legal actions against tobacco companies whose products are alleged to be causing the deaths of many Nigerians and of luring youths into smoking in order to enhance profits margin. Already, the Federal Government and some states like Oyo, Kano, Osun and Gombe are pursuing anti-tobacco cases both at the state and national assemblies.
Though the nation presently lacks a comprehensive data on the deaths caused by tobacco-related illnesses, a research recently conducted by a non-governmental organisation, the Coalition Against Tobacco (CAT) indicated that 280,000 Nigerians died annually as a result of tobacco-induced sicknesses, warning that the number may double in the near future if not checked. Also, in 2006, a research carried out in Lagos revealed that at least two people die daily from tobacco-related diseases; translating to 60 persons losing their lives monthly. These figures exclude passive smokers (who inhale the smoke of others and end up having heart disease, lung cancer and a host of other illnesses).
It is important to note that tobacco smoking and the industry itself is in retreat in developed economies. In fact, in the last two decades, tobacco firms began to relocate their operations to Africa and other under-developed nations due to the stringent regulations introduced in Europe and North America. This is aimed at curtailing the rise in tobacco- induced illnesses, resulting in a number of deaths, especially among youths who constitutes the productive base of any nation. We therefore need to borrow a leaf from the west and regulate the infiltration of tobacco firms into the country under the guise of industrialisation. Though we know it would be a tough decision for the Senators to choose between the economy and the health implication of tobacco, there is need however for the lawmakers to demonstrate courage and show commitment in this direction.
As the nation awaits the passage of the bill, government at all levels must also intensify public enlightenment campaigns on the health implication of tobacco consumption. We also expect the health ministry to carry out a comprehensive research and analysis on the impact of cigarette smoking in order to produce a data that would serve as a reference point in the future when the need arise. This is imperative because it would be foolhardy for the country to always rely on data produced by foreign organisations for our national development.
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