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Abuja anti-tobacco billboard targets lawmakers

As Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) unveiled an anti-tobacco billboard strategically located by the National Assembly complex in Abuja on Thursday (November 3, 2016), he says the development was informed by the need to press home demands for adoption of Regulations for Implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015

The anti-tobacco billboard
The anti-tobacco billboard

Without mincing words, we must inform you of the stage we are in regarding the implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015: The Federal Ministry of Health is still fleshing out regulations for its effective implementation, which will be transmitted to the National Assembly for approval.

This is therefore a very crucial time because, between the periods the NTC Act was signed into law in 2015 and the inauguration of the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) by Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, and now, the tobacco industry has not relented in the trade we know too well.

We have recorded a lot of shocking developments that encourage us to demand expedited action on the tobacco control regulations. We have recorded among others, Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited (PMINTL) cigarette imports from Senegal, an unwarranted aspersion on the integrity of NATOCC members by the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA) – a group that was in the fore of British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) campaign for a sufficiently weakened tobacco law in Nigeria, and now the unrelenting marketing gimmicks targeted at our kids.

The attempt to get our kids hooked through kiosks and other Point of Sale (POS) near schools is now a big issue not only in Nigeria but across Africa. In Cameroun, Togo and Uganda to list a few countries, these things are happening. Our concern however is that Nigeria still remains the biggest market for the tobacco industry on the African continent because of its teeming population of vibrant youths. In virtually all the states of the federation, street corners and around schools have been targeted by the tobacco death merchants to market new flavours of cigarettes. Is it not very disturbing to know that there are orange, vanilla and Amarula flavours of cigarettes now being openly displayed and sold to capture the attention of our kids and addict them to smoking?

With the aforementioned, the question that may then agitate your minds is: Why are we putting up this billboard? And why this location? For us, the unveiling of this billboard is not the mere ceremony of a big and colourful advertisement. It is not competition over a product. This is an innovation in getting our advocacy messages on public health to our esteemed lawmakers who have the onerous task of approving the tobacco control regulations for effective implementation of the NTC Act.

The message we have on the board is also intended to resonate with our kids who are intelligent and will ask their parents what the issues are. They will ask questions and we will have to answer them.

For the wider public, the billboard is like a television set that you cannot switch off. It is always there, they will always see it. Unlike television or magazine adverts, you cannot flip the channel or turn the page. So, for our lawmakers who traverse this route daily, they cannot miss it and the message will stick. Most importantly we want it to galvanise them to action.

As we preach this message using this outdoor medium, we are also asking the Ministry of Health to expedite action on the NTC regulations for the full implementation of the Act.

We have said it time and again, delay is dangerous. The time to Act is now!

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