The recent influx of flavoured cigarettes into the Nigerian market, which are mostly targeted at luring children, has again laid bare the country’s lack of implementation of the Tobacco Act passed into law last year, writes Martins Ifijeh
When former President Goodluck Jonathan in May last year signed the National Tobacco Control Bill into law, one would think illicit trade on tobacco products would be a thing of the past, or at best be reduced to a very insignificant level because of the contents embedded in the Act, which were designed to ensure effective regulation and control of production, manufacture, sale, labeling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products in Nigeria.
Fast forward one year after. The illicit trade has taken a more subtle but daring and dangerous approach. It has gone more underground, while still achieving its heinous results of offering banned tobacco products to unsuspecting customers, especially at alluring different fragrances and flavours that are often at cheaper prices since they are smuggled products without duty fee paid on importation.
What is more worrisome in recent times is the influx of flavoured cigarettes into the Nigerian market. These set of banned cigarettes come in different flavours ranging from strawberry, mint, apple, cherry, among others, targeting not just smokers, but designed to lure even non smokers and children whose penchants for certain flavours would be the catch for them to have a feel of the flavoured cigarette.
Weeks of investigation by THISDAY showed that these illicit tobacco products are smuggled into the Nigerian market from various borders in the country, especially the land borders where they are hidden inside other products and transported. They are also sold at ridiculously cheap prices since taxes are evaded on them. No duty fees are paid on smuggled products.
The products which are sinister innovations are manufactured with sweet fruity flavours that have a powerful appeal to children and completely mask the smell of tobacco. The influx, which started slowly about two years ago, has reached every nook and cranny of the Nigerian market, mostly outside the eye of the various regulatory bodies.
Though, sometime last year, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) warned Nigerians on the illicit tobacco products, but the practice continued.
The SON had published a full page consumer alert notice in some national dailies where it warned that the organisation had uncovered the marketing, distribution and sale of certain brands of Oris Slims Strawberry, Oris Slim Double Apple, Nakhla Tobacco (Peach, mint and apple flavours), Mizo Grape Water Pipe Tobacco, Lamar Strawberry Super Slims and Business Club Strawberry, Apple and Cherry Flavoured Cigarettes in Nigerian market.
The alert further read that, “these brands of cigarettes are not allowed to be manufactured or imported into Nigeria by the Nigeria Industrial Standard for Tobacco Products-cigarettes, as it could initiate and induce children into smoking. In addition, these products were not registered nor did they pass through SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) process prior to entry into the Nigerian market.”
However, investigations by THISDAY reveals that these products still flood the Nigerian market. From Lagos in South-west, to Kaduna in North-west, up to Edo State in the South-south region of the country, the stories are the same. People now prefer these category of tobacco products, even though they present great health risks to the body.
Though, in order to quell this rising tide, especially in Lagos State, a special task force by the government recently raided some parts of the state, including, Orile, Alabasuru and FESTAC Town. But the efforts appear to be a little drop in the ocean, as several other parts of the city and the country at large are ladened with pockets of vendors who trade on illicit tobacco products, especially on the flavoured cigarettes.
Dangers Inherent in Smoking Flavoured Cigarettes:
Flavoured cigarettes are, according to experts, types of contraband cigarettes and illicit tobacco products smuggled into the country or manufactured locally. It has been proven that there is a possibility that a particular flavouring might contain elements that would be more harmful to the body.
Since they are not being submitted to regulatory bodies for vetting, they therefore are likely to pose more medical harm to the body physiology than the conventional and standard cigarettes which are being regulated.
For instance, research findings have shown that the menthol cigarette, which is a type of flavoured cigarette, inhibits nicotine metabolism in the body. They have a strong allure to children and underage persons. They are also addictive in nature, which most times become an introductory point for children and former non-smokers to fully embrace the habit of tobacco intake.
According to the World Health Organisation data on Nigeria, as of December 31, 2012, approximately 18 per cent of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 have smoked a cigarette before. Such vulnerable group can be protected by introduction of stiffer laws, having more effective enforcement actions and prosecution of offenders. The sale of tobacco products to minors is clearly prohibited by the National Tobacco Control Act. The law clearly states in Part II Section 3 (1) that, “No person below the age of eighteen years (18 years) are allowed to purchase or take tobacco.”
Efforts by Consumer Protection Council in Curbing the Menace:
In an interview with THISDAY, the Head, Consumer Protection Council, Lagos branch, Mr. Joshua Ngadda, said the council recently got wind of the influx of flavoured cigarettes and other illicit tobacco products into the market, adding that they have sent surveillance teams out to monitor and make recommendations to the council on the trade.“In few days the report will be ready and we will swing into action. If they are found to be illicit tobacco products, all the persons involved will be brought to book, because the health of the citizens is of great concerns to us,” he added. He therefore asked THISDAY to come back next week for update on the council’s action towards eradicating or reducing the trade in the country.
Economic Consequence of Illicit Trade on Tobacco:
A financial expert, Dr. Julius Odia, believed Illicit tobacco trade has done more harm to the country in recent times than some other vices currently campaigned against in the country.
According to him, since revenue and excise duties are avoided by the traders because they are not permitted by law to either manufacture, distribute or sell banned tobacco products to customers in the country, they often would use an underground tactics to deliver same products to customers, while they also evade tax, thereby not just contributing to the health issues in the country, but financial loss.
It is also observed that this affects all industries, as well as intellectual property owners, as it harms, damage businesses, promotes criminality, mislead consumers into buying products of dubious quality, and ultimately harm consumers.
Impact of Illicit Trade on Consumer of Tobacco Products:
No doubt, lower cigarette prices have a strong appeal on consumers, but unfortunately, they also have grave consequences on their health and wellbeing. It is common knowledge that illicit traders do not comply with prevailing industrial hygiene and safety standards; even when they do, it is usually low.
Over the years, reports have emerged of illicit cigarettes containing sawdust, rat droppings, and even human faeces. Hence, smokers can only hope that their cigarettes have been manufactured in accordance with the required standards.
How to Identify a Tobacco Product not Registered by SON and other Regulatory Bodies:
Smokers should look out for the following when buying a tobacco product; SON certification,
ingredients used in the manufacture of the tobacco product, as well as the language used in the display area. It is often believed that a strange language is a strong indication of a smuggled or counterfeited tobacco.
The SON Conformity Assessment Programme was introduced in 2005 by the federal government of Nigeria to address the concerns of unsafe products entering the country. This assessment conformity scheme requires all imported products, whose standard specifications were declared compulsory by SON, to be inspected for conformity to the relevant Nigerian standard before release into the Nigerian market.