The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has asked the Federal Government to immediately inaugurate the Tobacco Control fund as recommended in the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015, saying the near zero allocation to tobacco control in the recently passed 2020 national budget has reinforced the need to institutionalise a funding mechanism.
Part 3, Section 8 (1) of the NTC Act 2015 provides “for the creation of the Tobacco Control Fund which shall consist of monies made available by the Federal Government from annual budgetary allocation approved by the National Assembly”.
Monies in form of subventions from any of the governments of the Federation can also be ploughed into meeting the stated objectives of the Act.
In the 2020 national budget, the health sector got N427 billion. A reasonable chunk of these monies go to the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) which received N44.5 billion. The BHCP Funds is to be administered through the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH). Recurrent expenditure stands at N336 billion while capital expenditure is N46.47 billion. There was no mention of the tobacco control fund, according to the activists.
In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN said that it is worried that, even after repeated demands by public health experts that a substantial percent of the budget or tobacco taxes be allocated to tobacco control, the Federal government was yet to see good reason to do so.
ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “It is ironic that the inauguration of the Tobacco Control Fund is still in limbo despite the genuine yearnings of the public health community and indeed the larger Nigerian populace who strongly recommend that tobacco control should be given centre-stage in government’s quest for wholesome health for Nigerians. Bad as this is for public health, for the tobacco industry it is good news.”
Oluwafemi opined that lack of funding for tobacco control and the delayed gazette of the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 both constitute clogs in the enforcement of the laws, even as he added that “every minute now counts as new smokers are conscripted and lives are lost.”
NTCA National Coordinator, Oluseun Esan, said: “The Federal Government’s failure to inaugurate the Tobacco Control Fund under the 2020 budget will allow the tobacco industry have a field day interfering in public health issues. Already, the same industry is talking about playing a role in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ready to supposedly partner to make this happen. What this means is more addiction, more economic losses to tobacco deaths.”
Esan explained that the groups’ views on funding for tobacco control re-echo what hundreds of individuals and groups asked for in 2019 when they petitioned the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to earmark tobacco taxes for health coverage and tobacco control in Nigeria.
“There is no better gift to start this year than the setting up of the Tobacco Control Fund which should be funded from tobacco taxes. Doing this will not only save the lives of Nigerians, it will also show the world how serious Nigeria is in tackling the tobacco menace,” the activists insisted.