Civil society and public health groups operating under the aegis of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) have opposed the “Draft Policy on Conventional Tobacco and Non-Combusted Alternatives to Cigarette Smoking” advanced by the tobacco industry, urging the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to jettison the proposal and the narratives that are used to justify it.
Public health groups learnt that the tobacco industry proposal, which is being considered by the ministry, seeks to develop a regulatory framework to encourage smokers to switch from conventional or combustible cigarettes to Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs).
The NTCA, in a letter to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunda Niyi Adebayo, dated July 28, 2020, stated that the draft policy is misleading, contravenes the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act, 2015 and the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) which Nigeria ratified in 2005.
In the letter titled “Attempts by the Tobacco Industry to Create a Constitutional Crisis in Nigeria and the Attendant Public Health Concerns” andsigned by NTCA Board Chair, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the group referenced Section 1(m) of the NTC Act which states that Nigeria’s obligation under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC includes ensuring that tobacco control policies are implemented over and above any contrary interest of the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry on account of the inherent and irreconcilable conflict of interest between the goals of public health policies for tobacco control and the commercial interests of the tobacco industry.
The group insists that the misleading claims by the tobacco industry on e-cigarettes and other alternatives have been debunked by the WHO, which has reportedly said that e-cigarettes and HTPs are “undoubtedly harmful” and that countries “that have not banned (e-cigarettes) should consider regulating them as harmful products”.
The NTCA lists countries said to have banned e-cigarettes to include Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, India, Iran, Lebanon, Macau, Mauritius, Mexico, Oman, Panama, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Uruguay.
The HTPs, it adds, have also been banned in Australia, Brunei, Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Malta, Mexico, Panama, Qatar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, and Uganda.
NTCA urges the minister to note that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specifically denied Philip Morris’ claim that switching from combustible cigarettes to the company’s HTP brand, IQOS, will reduce the risk of disease, stating:
“(Philip Morris) has not demonstrated that as actually used by consumers, the products sold or distributed with the proposed modified risk information will significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco‐related disease…”
NTCA adds that the FDA did not find either that (1) IQOS is “safe” or even “safer” than other tobacco products, or (2) that IQOS can help smokers quit and banned Philip Morris from making claims in the U.S. that switching completely from conventional cigarettes to the IQOS system can reduce the risks of tobacco‐related diseases; and switching completely to IQOS presents less risk of harm than continuing to smoke cigarettes.
The NTCA reminded the minister that Nigeria is currently burdened with cardiovascular diseases which have led to loss of manpower and the attendant burden on public healthcare facilities. It cited the Tobacco Atlas, which recently documented that about 16,100 Nigerians die yearly from tobacco-related causes, and empirical studies which show that the nation loses about $800 million annually including direct costs related to healthcare expenditures and indirect costs related to lost productivity due to early mortality and morbidity caused by tobacco use.
It concluded with a recommendation to the minister to disallow any entity from misleading the ministry through narratives of employment generation, exports potential, revenue for government and other promises.
NTCA said it also sent copies of the letter to the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government, Attorney-General of the Federation as well as the Minister of Health.