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Group alerts on ‘suspicious’ amendment of tobacco bill

Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), alerted media executives in Abuja on Thursday, May 4, 2017 on alleged attempts by the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control regulation

L-R: Hilda Ochefu of Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), and Adewunmi Imoruma, a youth activist from Gatefield, during the media session in Abuja

We have learnt of a very suspicious Bill to Amend The National Tobacco Control Act 2015 sponsored by Honourable Dickson Tarkighir representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives. Among others, the Bill seeks to vest the implementation of the NTC Act with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and as anticipated, has the full support of the tobacco industry.

This should not come as a surprise to you. As we noted in the process running up to the passing of the NTC Act, the tobacco industry will stop at nothing to upturn efforts already in place to ensure effective tobacco control policies in this country. The NTC Act, we wish to state, has the potential to save millions of our citizens from tobacco-induced illnesses and deaths and put Nigeria on the map of nations that have effective tobacco control policies in place.

The suspicious Bill removes all powers of the Minister of Health and vests same with the Director General, of the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), putting Tobacco Control absolutely under NAFDAC. It also vests full administration of the NTC Act in the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Dubiously, the new bill deleted Sections 2,3, 4 and 6, of the NTC Act, which established the National Tobacco Control Committee  (NATOCC) and  seeks  to  create  a  National  Tobacco  Control  Directorate  under NAFDAC.

The tobacco industry is also advancing on another front by planting moles in ministries of government that have anything to do with tobacco control policy. It may interest you to know that we learnt of the recent leak of a confidential document relating to the implementing guidelines and regulations for the NTC Act at the Ministry of Justice.

This alleged breach in form of the smuggling of a supposed confidential document to one of the leading tobacco corporations in the country, is a sad reminder that an official from the same ministry who was on the delegation of the Nigerian government to the seventh session of the Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in November 2016 advanced tobacco industry-laced arguments that shocked the world at the talks. It will be recalled that the representative of the ministry at the Treaty Talks advanced arguments criticising Article 5.3 guidelines limiting Parties’ interaction with the tobacco industry, as well as Articles 9 and 10 which recommend measures to reduce the addictiveness of tobacco products.

Smuggling of official documents to non-government actors – individuals, corporations etc carry a heavy weight with the law. Worse is when such information is used to subvert the will of Nigerians who have overwhelmingly demanded measures to reduce tobacco addiction as enshrined in the provisions of the NTC Act.

In the light of the above we are immediately demanding that:

  • The Nigerian government, particularly the Ministry of Health remain unintimidated as it works on resolutions for the effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act.
  • The Ministry of Health hasten investigation of the controversial recommendations of some members of the Nigerian delegation to the Conference of Parties meeting held in India in November 2016. Delegates from the Ministry of Justice and the Standards
  • Organisation of Nigeria (SON) are of particular interest in the said controversy which cast Nigeria in bad light among the committee of nations that attended the Talks
  • The brain behind the alleged Ministry of Justice leaks be identified, investigated for ties with the tobacco industry and appropriately sanctioned
  • Put in place a mechanism for insulating tobacco policies from tobacco industry interference
  • Fast-tracking of the implementing guidelines and regulations for the NTC Act

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