Government could do more to support the tobacco initiative

The coming into force of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on February 27, 2005, marked the first time that the World Health Organisation (WHO) went as far as enacting international legal powers to address tobacco addiction and its deadly fallouts. The signing into law of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan was therefore a watershed as we joined the ranks of nations that have domesticated the treaty.

While the law still has loopholes such as the bureaucratic provision that the National Assembly must give its nod for implementing regulations to be fashioned by the Ministry of Health for implementation to begin, the 2015 NTC Act is seen as a torchlight pointing in the right direction. A further encouraging development was the inauguration of the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) by Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s meeting with civil society where he pledged federal government’s support for quick implementation of the tobacco law.

However, the need to be circumspect about the tobacco industry is instructive. This has become very important now that the industry is pulling stunts across Africa. Kenya is an example that readily comes to mind. Even after a 13-year legislative battle for the passage of her Tobacco Control Act which happened in 2007, British America Tobacco (BAT) petitioned a Kenyan court to stop the adoption of regulations that would facilitate implementation of Kenya’s tobacco act claiming the Kenyan Ministry of Health violated due process procedures under the constitution by not consulting with the tobacco industry in fashioning its control act.

After several deliberate attempts to arm-twist the ministry, the Kenyan court ruled among others that, according to the documents presented to it, there were various meetings during the framing of the regulations that BAT was represented in, and consulted. The suit was thrown out.
Studies show that 80 per cent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18 years.

Adolescents, in particular, have been found to be distinctively susceptible to social and environmental influences. The tobacco industry invests heavily in research on how best to capture the imagination of youth; assured in the knowledge that nicotine (a heavily addictive drug found in cigarettes) would continue to ensure that the target group would persist in smoking into adulthood. Studies have also confirmed that the younger the age, the heavier the addiction and thus the harder it is to drop the habit. The calculation, which has proved true, is that most of these young people never consider the long term risks.

Yet tobacco has immediate adverse health consequences upon addiction, including accelerating the development of chronic health disease across the full life course. The relationship between active smoking and both reduced lung function and impaired lung growth is also linked to a strong tobacco habit. Clearly, Nigeria needs to focus on protecting young people from starting to smoke. For prevention, regulation is critical in an economy where the necessary statistics on the toll that tobacco has on its citizenry are lacking.

As we have repeatedly argued, the incongruous branding of tobacco together with food and beverages at the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) must be addressed, with the removal of tobacco from all such categorisation. Education policies, tools and programmes that highlight the dangers endemic in initiating the habit need to be developed and implemented. An increase in expenditure on sustained and comprehensive tobacco control programmes have proved effective in the reduction of youth and adult smoking rates. So governments, at all levels, need to lend its financial support to these initiatives.

Until we can curtail the use of tobacco, our young people will continue to get sick, efficiency will continue to decline and our nation will continue to lose many of its otherwise productive citizens.