As the Federal Government begins the enforcement of the health warning requirements of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 and the Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 on all tobacco products manufactured and distributed in Nigeria from Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) and the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) have urged the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the enforcement agencies to begin surveillance and monitoring exercises to ensure that tobacco companies effectively comply with the policy.
The new pictorial health warnings will carry strong graphics and text messages that aim to sensitise both smokers and non-smokers about the health-related problems like lung cancer, heart diseases, among others linked to smoking. The pictorial health warnings, which must henceforth be on the packs, must cover 50% of the front and back of the tobacco product package.
A text-only health warning must also be displayed on one of the lateral sides of the package. For cigarette cartons, text-only warnings are required to cover 50% of the front and back surfaces. The size of the warnings will be rotated at least every 24 months and will be increased to 60% in June 2024.
The new packs replace the former which require that the prescribed health warning “The Federal Ministry of Health warns that Smokers are liable to die young”, occupy at least 50% of the front and back of all cigarette tobacco-please cross-check with the Act and Regs-the requirement is for all tobacco products packaging on the lower half of the panel.
In a statement jointly issued in Lagos, the NTCA and CAPPA stated that the new regulations are perfectly in line with the requirements of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) Article 11, which requires that Parties to the Treaty to implement health warnings occupying at least 50% of the tobacco product principal display areas and that they should contain both pictures and texts.
NTCA Project Officer, Chibuike Nwokorie, said: “While we commend the Federal Government for this bold step in dissuading kids and the uninformed from taking to smoking, the enforcement agencies must also swing into action to ensure that the tobacco industry does not thwart the process by dumping old packs in the market. All hands must be on deck to ensure this policy is not derailed.”
Nwokorie added that rumours making the rounds that the tobacco companies in the country may be mass producing old packs to saturate the market should be investigated and appropriate actions taken to ensure they do not end up in the market.
According to him, the industry has had over 30 months since the SON standards were published, and 18 months since the gazettement of the TC Regulations to mop up the old packs and may have decided not to, to undermine the policy.
CAPPA Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “The introduction of the pictorial health warnings marks another milestone in Nigeria’s tobacco control journey. By this feat, Nigeria will be reducing the number of Nigerians lured into smoking through the beautiful packs hitherto in the market.
“For the policy to achieve its intended purpose, the National Orientation Agency (NOA), working collaboratively with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) must also begin awareness creation across the country.”
The NTCA and CAPPA promised to support awareness creation about the policy, even as they urged the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigeria Police and other enforcement agencies to work collaboratively to enforce the policy.
“We anticipate some push-backs from the tobacco industry as the policy commences but we believe that agencies of government working in synergy can put them in check. Nigeria cannot afford to allow the tobacco merchants to gamble with the lives of its citizens. The era of glamourisation of tobacco products is over. We wholeheartedly support the enforcement of the Pictorial Health Warnings on tobacco packages.”