By FRANKLIN ALLI
Hard times loom ahead for the tobacco industry in Nigeria, including users of its products — smokers — as the Tobacco Control Bill 2014 becomes law soon.
When passed, the law comes with stiff penalties for companies and individuals who violate the regulations in the country.
In 2004, Nigeria along with other nations of the world signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC.
The objectives were to ensure tobacco free environment for their citizens, promote healthy lifestyle and productivity.
According to WHO, smoking kills six million people globally every year and if this trend persist, by 2030, the annual death toll from smoking will climb to more than eight million.
WHO also predicted that smoking will have taken 1,000,000,000 lives by the end of the 21st century.
In order to address this problem, over 190 countries have so far domesticated the 2004 FCTC and banned smoking in public places.
Brazil is one of them. Since 15 December 2011, Brazil Federal Law 12546 (Article 49) forbids smoking in public spaces in the entire country, including restaurants and bars.
Similarly in Bulgaria, a comprehensive smoking ban has been introduced prohibiting smoking in all public places including bars, restaurants, clubs, workplaces, stadiums, etc. It came into effect on 1 June 2012.
However, ten years after Nigeria signed the FCTC, government couldn’t pass the law due to several amendments to the Bill by National Assembly.
The Federal Government is however ensuring the Bill is passed into law.
Investigations conducted by Financial Vanguard, showed that when the Bill is eventually passed into law, the operating environment might not be easy for tobacco companies in the country, let alone smokers.
Financial Vanguard gathered that for defaulting companies, the fine varies from N1 million to as much as N5 million while imprisonment of the Chief Executives of offending companies vary from one year to two years if they break the law.
Whereas for individual, that is a smoker who goes to a place clearly designated non- smoking area, the fine is N50, 000 or imprisonment of up to six months.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health, said, “We want to produce hundred per cent tobacco free environment for people who do not want anything to do with tobacco. So places will be clearly designated as non smoking area. If a smoker breaks the law, he will be liable for prosecution.”
“The Bill also proposes to ban advertisement and corporate sponsorship by tobacco companies of any public event such as sports, seminar and so on. “We will not accept gift from any tobacco company. Gifts such as school building, etc, will not be accepted. Some states like Lagos and Cross River have passed their own tobacco Bill into law. Now we want to make it national,” said the Minister.
Financial Vanguard interviewedstakeholders in the industry on the issue. Here are their comments:
Freddy Messanvi (Director, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, British American Tobacco West Africa), said “We remain committed to the passage of a tobacco control law that is balanced and workable. We believe that regulation is key for the industry and as such we support the passage of a workable bill that will achieve the intended objectives of the health advocates and not promote illegal trade in the sector, to the detriment of the legal industry.”
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Director, Corporate Campaigns, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), noted, “We see the Executive Bill as a welcome development; it shows that the Federal Government is beginning to take the issue of tobacco in its entirety very seriously and that domesticating the FCTC is now paramount on government’s agenda.
“Our take is that the National Assembly should fast-track the passage of the Bill into law so that Nigerians can have the enabling environment to live a healthy life style.
“We are optimistic that the Bill will be passed this year. The Bill had been delayed for so long. We can’t afford to delay it again. So we believe that with the commitment we have been seeing from the Executive arm of government, the Bill will sail through this time and that President Goodluck Jonathan will also append his signature to it since it is coming from the Federal Executive Council, FEC.”
Corroborating this, Gbenga Adejuwon, Alliance Manager, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, noted that the law when passed will not only reduce demand and supply of tobacco products in the economy, it will also encourage smokers to quit,” he said.
Philip Jakpor, Head of Media, ERA/FoEN, also pointed out that the law will drastically reduce governments’ spending on healthcare, especially tobacco related diseases.
“It may interest you to know that Lagos state alone said it was expending over N2billion on tobacco patients. The state government carried out the survey in 11 state-owned hospitals and that there were over 9,000 patients and each was gulping N222, 000 from tax payers’ money plus another N70, 000 that the patients themselves must expend. That was 2006 and that is only Lagos State. If we replicate this across the federation then you can imagine the trillions of naira this country is spending on patients with tobacco related sickness,” he said.
A smoker, Obinna Mbamalu, however dismissed the proposed Bill. He said he has been smoking two packets of cigarette daily for ten years and he will continue to smoke because, he said “Passing the law is not the issue but making it work.
Since Governor Fashola passed the law in Lagos, how many people have been arrested for violation? Go to Oshodi under-bridge, go to Ojuelegba or Ojota Garage and see things for yourself. How many of them have been arrested by government? The law can work in other countries, but not here.”