• Urge NASS on quick passage of tobacco control bill
Anti-tobacco groups and activists yesterday raised alarm over plans by tobacco multi-national industries in the country to scuttle tobacco prohibition legislations in Nigeria.
And top on the list of legislations allegedly targeted by the industries is the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB), which is still awaiting passage by the National Assembly.
The group, under the aegis of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) alleged that the tobacco companies had further up their games on lobbying lawmakers, promising self regulation and partnering state governments, in exchange for law against smoking in some states.
The group also urged member of the National Assembly to prioritise safety and health of Nigerians by passing the NTCB into law.
Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Godwin Ojo in a statement yesterday said it was noteworthy for the Nigerian government and members of the public to be aware of fresh tactics adopted by pro-tobacco industries, against the health and safety of the public.
According to him, the industries now use tactics like “lobbying political decision-makers, and even going as far as to draft legislations and regulations; promise of self-regulation and offering of voluntary initiatives, some supposedly designed to prevent youth smoking and offering to ‘partner’ with governments on issues related or unrelated to public health.”
Others are: “Demanding a seat at the table when tobacco control policies are being developed, claiming rights as a legitimate ‘stakeholder’ despite their fundamental conflict of interest with public health; promotion of so-called ‘corporate social responsibility’ through donations and other initiative as we see in communities like Iseyin where BAT regularly holds farmers day celebrations.
“Hiding behind workers, farmers, retailers and front groups and gaining influence through financial relationships with governments, from tax breaks and other incentives to government ownership of tobacco businesses, and so on.”
Ojo added: “We are speaking up at this time to keep the Senate and House of Representatives alert and to expedite action on the Bill in anticipation of renewed and more subtle attempts by the tobacco industry to further delay the passage of the bill,” he said.
Director, Corporate Accountability Campaigns & Administration, ERA, Akinbode Oluwafemi said further that it was high time the lawmakers had set aside party sentiments and personal ambitions to confront a common challenge, which the tobacco menace poses to our nation.
He said: “It is now time for our lawmakers to prioritize health and the wellness of our citizens by speeding up work on the Bill to finally make it law.
“There are several reasons why we must now move to autopilot mode on the tobacco control bill. It may interest you to know that during the yuletide we continued to unearth and document the subtle and very deliberate activities of the tobacco industry aimed at confusing the Nigerian public and thwarting any form of regulation.
“We documented more articles in the dailies and online platforms obviously concocted and written word for word by PR agencies paid to burnish the image of British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN). As anticipated, the articles showed similarities in phrases and intent, especially the demand for watered down legislation, which will allow BATN to continue its deceptive marketing strategies that have lured our youths into the smoking habit.
“The articles are consistent with a pattern of misinformation which has become more insidious after ERA/FoEN and CISLAC jointly criticized the visit of BATN Managing Director, Keith Gretton to the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola last September and the commissioning of BATN recreational center by the Oyo State Governor, Abiodun Ajimobi two months after.
“For us, the visibility that BATN intended to create by ingratiating with our elected representatives is further proof that the company is unrelenting in its ploy to pull wool over the faces of Nigerians. BATN has gone beyond its annual so-called Farmer’s Day event in Iseyin and donation of cottage industries in Ogun, Ondo and other states around.
“The company is now oiling its so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to go for the kill, which is to effectively thwart legislation that would regulate the marketing, sale and distribution of its lethal products in Nigeria,” the statement read in part.
Oluwafemi reiterated that the single greatest obstacle to the success of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Nigeria signed in 2004, ratified in 2005, and plans to domesticate through the National Tobacco Control Bill, is tobacco industry interference in public health policy. Article 5.3 of the FCTC forbids this anomaly.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) affirms that the FCTC aims to reverse an epidemic that today claims the life of one in 10 adults, most of whom are from developing countries like Nigeria. The deaths arising from smoking are not only restricted to our climes.
Continuing, he said: “As a country we have lost talented sportsmen, musicians and even journalists to tobacco-related illnesses. These great minds may not have been as popular as the Marlboro man but they were dear to their families and dear to us all.
“The passage of the tobacco control bill and its implementation will save us from further deaths and the trading off of the young generation that BATN and other tobacco companies are priming to take over the smoking habit from a dying generation of smokers. The Bill will be a vital legislation to hold the tobacco companies accountable for their deception,” he said.