The British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) has expressed its support for appropriate regulation of tobacco industry. This, the company believes, will help reduce the impact of tobacco on public health in the country. The company made this known at the public hearing for the anti-tobacco bill in the Senate.
The Area Head, Regulatory Affairs of the company, Mr. Tony Okwoju said that BATN has always supported the appropriate regulation of the tobacco industry in Nigeria by cooperating and collaborating with government agencies towards ensuring that existing regulations are enforced.
â€œThrough co-operation between BATN and Nigeria Customs, we have seen a reduction in the incidence of illicit trade from over 80 per cent in 2001 to around 20 per cent today,â€ Okwoju said, adding that the company was the first to inscribe larger, more prominent health warnings on its cigarette packs in accordance with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria Cigarette Standards in 2008.
Okwoju pointed out that for any regulation to be effective, it must be very clear in terms of its set objectives, noting that if the intention was to reduce the health impact of tobacco, it should be enforceable on all players in the industry and should not be aimed at forcing law abiding businesses out of operation, thus leaving the market at the mercy of smugglers.
He conveyed BATNâ€™s support for provisions in the Bill on under age sales because of its strong belief that only adults who are aware of the risks should smoke. â€œA provision which sets out the minimum age for tobacco purchase will boost our Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign, which seeks to dissuade our trade partners from selling tobacco products to under aged persons,â€ the BATN representative said.
Okwoju highlighted some other provisions of the bill which the company supported. â€œWe support restrictions on the delivery of tobacco products by mail because it is difficult to verify the age of the recipient through the channel. The BATN also supports the restrictions on smoking in public places for the sake of many non-smokers who would rather not inhale the smoke of others,â€ he remarked.
He also highlighted some of the areas of the bill that called for concern, as their extremity was going to be too choking for the legal tobacco industry.
He insisted that altering and undermining the rules of evidence to make it easier for anybody to win lawsuits against the tobacco industry will not reduce the health impact of tobacco. Rather, he said, this will force the legal tobacco companies out of business as they will be forced to shut down their operations, leading to job losses, illicit trade and a reduction in government revenue, as well as discouraging foreign investment.
Picking holes in the provision that makes anybody an enforcement officer who can seize any thing from businesses, he said this will provide that opportunity for extortion and potentially make it almost impossible for any law abiding company to operate. He equally expressed concerns over the provision that completely prohibits any form of communication between manufacturers and consumers, arguing that this will make it impossible for consumers to get information about genuine products.
In addition, he said the provision prohibiting access to tobacco products from within 1,000 metres of such a wide variety of locations will only encourage under-the-counter selling by people who are not likely to respect the law that prohibits under-age sales.
The BATN representative encouraged the health committee to take a good look at the bill to prevent un-intended consequences. â€œWe believe that every law should be crafted in a manner that will ensure that desired results are achieved.
We believe that purpose of a tobacco law should be the reduction of the impact of tobacco on public health. It should not be to force legal tax-paying tobacco companies out of business,â€ he said.
Okwoju lamented the several erroneous impressions about the industry, created by activist groups, one of which is to portray the whole episode as a campaign against the tobacco industry. According to him, â€œBig Tobacco is the legal and visible industry, and not the faceless smugglers who are ready to sell tobacco products to anyone, and who will do anything to avoid paying tax, including shooting at Customs officers.â€