By Princewill Ekwujuru
The House of Representatives says it cannot ban smoking in its totality, but can institute laws that will control smoking in public places.
Chairman, House Committee on Health, Honourable Godwin Elumelu, who gave this indication while presiding over the final public hearing on the National Tobacco Control Bill, NTCB, however, assured tobacco firms in the country that government was not frightening them out of business, but only intends to ensure that rights of non-smokers are protected.
“We must let you know that we are not chasing you (tobacco operators) away. The bill is meant to control and regulate tobacco and its impact on the people. So don’t feel that way,” he said.
Similarly, Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Hon. Walid Hammad, said: “We cannot ban smoking, but we must control it. The bill is not out to ban smoking and the tobacco companies.”
Hammed explained that his committee had to participate in the hearing because of the legal implication of the bill, and also to ensure that the views of every stakeholders such as civil society, groups, tobacco farmers and companies could be heard.
He said this will also help in enhancing and formulating a robust national framework for tobacco control such that everyone’s rights will be protected, noting that Nigeria is lagging behind in the global framework for tobacco control.
The Minister of Health, Chukwu Onyebuchi, represented by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mr. Linus Awute, said the bill is of great importance considering the country’s quest to protect non-smokers.
He cautioned stakeholders against losing sight of government’s intention with the bill considering the aggressive way both pro and anti-tobacco smoking advocates were going about it.
Anti-tobacco agencies had, in the bill, initiated outright ban on tobacco smoking, advertisement or promotion.
The hearing on the floor of the House had in attendance stakeholders in the industry, such as tobacco farmers, civil society groups, tobacco distributors and manufacturers.
At the hearing, pro and anti-tobacco groups argued their positions. For instance, Rasheed Bakare, President, Nigeria Independent Tobacco Farmers Association, said his association’s position is that tobacco farmers’ interest should be protected in the bill as their livelihood would suffer if anything contrary to that is done.