The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, on Tuesday told the Senate to stand with the Nigerian people and expeditiously pass the National Tobacco Control Regulations Amendment Bill that has already been passed by the House of Representatives.
ERA and other public health groups said that the passage of Tobacco Control Act Amendment Bill should be the parting gift the Eight National Assembly will give to Nigerians to protect the health of the citizenry and even the unborn generation.
Briefing journalists in Abuja, the groups said that the Senate should ensure strong provisions of the Regulations were retained and approved before the end of the tenure of the current Assembly on 6th June 2019.
Aside ERA/FoEN, other groups that made the demand were Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), and Gatefield Limited, among others.
In his speech, Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi said “the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara captured the grim situation succinctly when he recently said that about 17,000 Nigerians die annually due to tobacco-induced illnesses, even as he added that the deaths were needless and avoidable.”
Oluwafemi stressed that more people die because the tobacco industry exploits the partial implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 which was signed into law by the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and continue to unleash lethal and innovative products into the Nigerian market to entice kids and conscript them into smoking for life.
He commended the House of Representatives for approving the draft Regulations developed by the Federal Ministry of Health and other critical stakeholders, stressing that the Senate should take a cue by approving the Regulations before their tenure elapses.
Hilda Ochefu, Subregional Coordinator, West Africa of the CTFK said that Nigeria was still lagging behind on tobacco control compared with other African countries that signed and ratified the World Health Organisation –Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
She listed Ghana and Senegal among countries that have strong provisions in their tobacco control law which Nigeria should emulate. Also speaking, Olu’seun Esan of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, NTCA said that Nigerians were particularly interested and monitoring the outcomes of the Senate review of the draft Regulations and will want strong provisions retained and the weak ones improved upon to ensure Nigeria takes a lead in tobacco control on the continent.
The NTC Act was signed into law in 2015 but is yet to be fully implemented because some of its provisions require Regulations which were only approved on 7 May 2019 by the House of Representatives.
The groups contended that though the approved draft of the House of Representatives contains some provisions that the tobacco companies may still explore to market their lethal wares such as the permission of government agencies to establish Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs), most of the provisions are strong.
The provisions include, “All forms of tobacco products shall carry health warnings. Stronger and better defined prohibited packaging. Principal Display Areas for all forms of tobacco products. 50% GHW on all tobacco products; to be automatically increased to 80% after 4 years and comprehensive annual reporting system from Tobacco Industry to Federal Ministry of Health.” Others are, “Increased smoke-free areas, mandatory and uniform notices, and duty of owners to enforce and report. Stringent conditions for DSAs.
Ban of TAPS in DSAs Duty to warn is placed on author, producer and publisher of artistic and journalistic works depicting tobacco use. This was a loophole in the Act. Ban of Point of sale display, and prescribed price list. More enforcement officers with community-level presence.
Annual licensing per variant for manufacturers and importers, and annual license for distributors.” The provisions also include “Reporting, public hearing, accessibility of information, and monitoring frameworks. Stronger penalties. Tobacco Control Fund gets license fees.”
The groups said they will monitor every step in the regulation process to ensure that what was approved on the floor of the House is what is reflected in the final outcome at the Senate.