By Prince Okafor
In a bid to enforce standard’s of products imported into the country, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, has commenced raiding of outlets selling illicit tobacco in the country. In an exclusive chat with Vanguard, the Director Inspectorate and compliance directorate, SON, Engr. Bede Obayi, said that Apapa has become a haven for sub-standard cigarettes because of its closeness to the ports. “We discovered during our raiding operation at Apapa that some of these cigarettes came in through the ports.
“They are being smuggled into the country by sailors and some foreigners who came in through the ships, on arrival, those around the coast collect them for trade.” He explained that imported cigarettes have different health specifications, when compared to the ones manufactured locally; they don’t have the same health warning.
He noted that flavoured cigarettes are not allowed in Nigeria, as it lures children between the ages of 12 and13 into habit of smoking, and as such they are banned items. Commenting on the recent National Tobacco Control Committee, NATOC, setup by the Minister of Health, he said that his organisation is fully involved, and they are working with them actively to ensure the mitigation of these illicit cigarette.
“The organisation is ready and willing to carry out its statutory mandate of protecting the wellbeing of Nigerians through sustained raid of shops and outlets selling flavoured cigarettes in every nook and cranny of the country. “SON has been in the forefront sensitizing the general public on the distribution and marketing of non-compliant brands of flavoured cigarettes,” he said.
SON recently conducted raids in some locations in Lagos, Aba and Kano, in which dealers in flavoured cigarettes were apprehended. However, research findings have shown that a type of flavoured cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, inhibit nicotine metabolism in the body.
These flavoured cigarettes contain fragrances and sweet fruity flavours that resonate with children and malevolently obscure the strong taste of the tobacco, and also produce a powerful and irresistible appeal for children and young adults, thereby making it hard for them to quit. This allure is capable of not only initiating underage smokers but also adults, who previously did not smoke, into the habit. Centres for Disease Control, CDC, also confirm that it can be a ready tool for luring adolescent beginners into tobacco consumption.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates that 18 percent of Nigerian teenagers aged 13 and 15 have smoked cigarette before. Besides, the TCA clearly prohibits the sale of cigarette and involvement of anyone below the age of 18 in the tobacco business and the production and packaging of cigarette in any manner that is capable of luring young people into smoking.
A source from the Ministry of Health, who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that globally, tobacco use is responsible for six million deaths through many medical conditions notably cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and cancers.” He noted that tobacco has been red-flagged by both local and international health communities as a poisonous and highly addictive substance that requires urgent intervention.
Illicit trade in tobacco accounts for an estimated 600 billion cigarettes per year. These illicit cigarettes have either been smuggled, counterfeited or have evaded duties. The illegality thrives on cigarettes being among the most commonly traded products on the black market due to high profit margins, relative ease of production and movement, and low detection rates and penalties.
Meanwhile, WHO, regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr Poonam Khetrapal, has said that “While the smuggling of contraband tobacco products across national borders has always been profitable, illegal tobacco trade is now the trademark for organised crime networks, which may also be involved in drugs, human and arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.”
She explained, “Cigarettes are becoming a preferred item to smuggle. Besides, unlike smuggling narcotics or other hard-core trafficked products, punishment for smuggling tobacco is less severe.” This is in addition to the fact that since tobacco products are not a high priority for enforcement agencies, they are attractive to smugglers.
It will be recalled that, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole during the setting up of the National Tobacco Control Committee, NATOC, said that the committee mandates in the implementation of TCA, include coordinating multi-stakeholders’ national youth smoking prevention programmes, advising and making recommendations to the Health Minister and screening or processing applications for license to manufacture, import or distribute tobacco products.
The committee is also expected to address the rising volume of illicit trade in tobacco and the proliferation of flavoured cigarettes due to their implications for youth smoking.
The Minister lamented that, there is no permissible limit for tobacco use in whichever method, form or disguise because it is harmful to health. Tobacco, when used exactly as intended by the tobacco industry will maim and kill more than half of its users.