It’s time to implement the tobacco control act

A recent alarm that tobacco companies were working to derail the implementation of the National Tobacco Control, (NTC) Act, signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, should worry critical stakeholders in the country. According to Akinbode Oluwafemi, who spoke on behalf of a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, the delay in the full implementation of the NTC Act 2015 was being exploited by the tobacco industry which is working with some unscrupulous politicians while aggressively targeting the huge youth population in the country.

Against the background that there are several studies which revealed that 80 per cent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18 years, the authorities should take the intervention by the CSOs very seriously. The tobacco industry invests heavily in research on how best to capture the imagination of youths, 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, reduced lung function and impaired lung growth is also linked to a strong tobacco habit. As most countries do, 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.

It is regrettable that the NTC Act has not been implemented after two years of being signed into law as the Ministry of Health through the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) is still working out modalities for its implementation. To worsen matters, there is a private member bill before the National Assembly which is seeking to vest the implementation of the NTC Act with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

As we have consistently argued on this page, 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.

We therefore have a responsibility to act now. Legislation has proved to be an essential strategy to curbing tobacco use in other countries, and for promoting robust tobacco programmes at state and local government levels. Diligence and commitment to the enforcement of the laws and policies to sustain comprehensive anti-tobacco programmes must be sustained.

We must avail our young people the true perspective on smoking; we must aim at creating the environment that makes it difficult for smoking to thrive and we urgently need to prevent the needless suffering of premature disease caused by tobacco as well as the huge expenditure on health.

The tobacco epidemic needs to be addressed so that we can curtail the heavy (but invisible) health expenditure on tobacco-related diseases.