By Agbonkhese Oboh
As the 8th National Assembly, NASS, winds down, the lawmakers have been urged to be on the side of the people by approving and ensuring full implementation of the National Tobacco Control, NTC, Act, 2015, a legacy they are leaving behind, which will be a benchmark for the quality of their interventions and their stand on matters of national importance in the last four years.

tobacco

A rights activist and public commentator, Emmanuel Odinaka, threw the challenge in a statement, noting that for the average Nigerian, the physical and mental health of the citizens come first, which is why the public health community has, in the last four years, championed strong advocacy for the full enforcement of the NTC Act, to regulate the manufacture, advertisement, distribution and consumption of tobacco products in Nigeria.

Recall that NTC Act domesticates the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, WHO-FCTC, which Nigeria signed in 2003, ratified in 2004 and was eventually signed into law by former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, on May 28, 2015.

However, many of the far-reaching provisions of the NTC Act are unenforceable due to a clause that requires the development of the regulations by the Federal Ministry of Health, which must be approved by the National Assembly before the said provisions are enforced.

This leaves only three provisions of the Act enforceable by the Consumer Protection Council, CPC: the prohibition on sale of cigarettes in single sticks, sale of cigarettes to minors, and smoking in public places, among others. CPC commenced the exercise in January in Abuja and extended it to Port Harcourt and Lagos in March.

Meanwhile, in his statement, Enugu-based Odinaka said: “The more technical aspects of the law which would close loopholes currently being exploited by tobacco corporations to incorporate innovations in marketing their lethal products to minors, provide frameworks for effective warning messages on tobacco packs and provide details for the full implementation of the Act in the enforcement of position of smoking in public places among others, are still awaiting the approval of the National Assembly.

“The Regulations, when passed, will provide technical and operational guides that ensure the effective implementation of the tobacco control Act. It will clear all ambiguities and provide details for rules and procedures.

“It was only in June 2018 that the draft Regulations developed by the Federal Ministry of Health were finally approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and subsequently sent to the National Assembly in January for approval.

“The slow pace of work at the National Assembly after receiving the draft Regulations have fueled suspicion in some quarters that the tobacco industry may be involved in intense lobbying aimed at frustrating the process to ensure it is not approved by the outgoing 8th National Assembly.

“This would amount to a colossal waste of efforts and energy so far invested in the Draft Regulations process by the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Tobacco Control Committee, NATOCC, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and other stakeholders.

“It is in this light that public health groups are now calling on the National Assembly to side with the people of Nigeria in ensuring that the life-saving National Tobacco Control Regulations are approved before the end of the current Assembly.”
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…in other African countries

Odinaka pointed out that of particular note is what public health groups believe the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, can do to move the process forward and swiftly too. He said in December 2016, civil society groups visited Dr. Saraki, who promised that Nigeria will not be a dumping ground and that the Senate will work very closely with civil society groups in enforcing tobacco control laws that are in strict compliance with global standards and regulations of the World Health Organisation, WHO.

According to Odinaka, “tobacco consumption is fueling diseases of epidemic proportions across the world and Nigeria cannot stand and watch as tobacco manufacturers and marketers turn its citizens to puns in their unconscionable quest for profit.

“Most of the provisions in the Draft Regulations are already being effectively implemented by several African countries including Ghana, Chad, Ethiopia, Senegal and many more.

“Now is the time to act! Nigerians want the National Assembly to fast track the approval of the Draft Regulations as its public health legacy, as doing so would save present and future generation of Nigerians from tobacco addiction, consequential health impairments and preventable deaths.”

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