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No Tobacco Day: Buhari urged to prioritise enforcement of laws

Advocates and public health professionals who converged on Abuja on Thursday, May 30, 2019 to mark the World No Tobacco Day 2019 have charged the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to give priority to the enforcement of the National Tobacco Act, 2015 in his four year term which began on Wednesday, May 29.

Tobacco Regulations
L-R: Lawrence Izang of UniAbuja Smoke-free Club (holding the mic), Olu’Seun Esan of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), Hilda Ochefu of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), and Philip Jakpor of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, at the briefing in Abuja

The groups said that the approval of the Draft National Tobacco Control Regulations by the Senate and House of Representatives on May 28, 2019 is a gift that will guarantee the wellbeing of current and future generation of Nigerians and should be swiftly implemented.

The groups include the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Cedars Foundation, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), and University of Abuja Smoke-free Club, among a host of others.

At the briefing, Oluseun Esan of the NTCA said that the 2019 World No Tobacco Day theme, “Tobacco and Lung Health”, reminds governments, that of Nigeria inclusive,  that tobacco causes death to users while a safe air for breathing will result in good lung health and long life for all.

Esan explained that it was refreshing that after the long wait, the National Assembly will be leaving a lasting health legacy by gifting Nigerians the approval on May 28, the same day in 2015 when former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Tobacco Control Act into law.

He noted that until the approval, only a few provisions of the NTC Act such as prohibition of sale of cigarettes to minors were enforceable. The lacuna this created, was exploited by the tobacco industry to market lethal products to kids.

In his intervention, Head of Media & Campaigns of ERA/FoEN, Philip Jakpor, said that the 2019 WNTD reiterates the fact that smoking is responsible for over two-thirds of lung cancer deaths globally, and sadly, that second-hand smoke which most Nigerians are exposed to in daily engagements, increases the risk of developing lung cancer for non-smokers.

Jakpor cited WHO statistics which says that that of the nearly 8 million people that die annually from tobacco consumption, more than 600,000 are victims of exposure to second-hand smoke.

The activist added that it was for this reason that governments around the world are making commitments to promote lung health by protecting their people from the effects of tobacco use and strengthening implementation of the proven tobacco control measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).

He said that in Nigeria the lacuna caused by unenforceable provisions of the National Tobacco Control Act since 2015 had been exploited by tobacco corporations to market lethal products, even as he commended the Senate and House of Representatives for gifting Nigerians the approval of the draft National Tobacco Control Regulations as a parting gift to coincide with the WNTD 2019.

He however observed that some of the Regulations were not as strong as Nigerians would have wanted but were still laudable developments.

Hilda Ochefu of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) commended the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara for siding with Nigerians to approve the Regulations, even as she praised the media for putting pressure on the government through incisive reports that exposed tobacco industry antics at frustrating tobacco control in Nigeria. 

She revealed that all the steps leading to the approval of the Regulations had been torturous starting with getting the Federal Executive Council to approve the Regulations developed by the Federal Ministry of Health and her partners.

Mike Olaniyan also of the CTFK broke down the approved Regulations into the following:

  • Health warnings on tobacco packs will now constitute 50% of the principal display surfaces. This will increase to 60% in four years
  • Prescribed price list of tobacco products at Point of Sale. This will not contain images, symbols, colors, signs or other contents including trade mark or branding images etc
  • Licensing of tobacco products – N10 million each as prescribed fees before issuance of license to manufacture, import or distribute tobacco products.

Okeke Anya of CISLAC believed beyond the approval of the Regulation, the government should be mindful that the tobacco industry was particular about getting replacement smokers through kids being initiated into smoking. For this reason, he advocated that the Nigerian government mainstream tobacco control into the education curriculum at all levels.

The groups asked for expedited action on the part of the Clerks of both Houses for production of clean copies that will be transmitted to the Federal Ministry of Health. They also want the Regulations published in the official gazette without delay as required by Section 22 of the NTC Act 2015, and full enforcement of the NTC Act by the relevant agencies of government.

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