Paul Obi in Abuja
Following the challenges facing the implementation of anti-Tobacco laws in the country, the Executive Director, Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA), Thompson Ayodele has charged the federal government not to rely on the private sector but to implement anti-Tobacco laws itself.
While speaking at the recent 2017 World No Tobacco Day with the theme ‘Tobacco-A Threat to Development’ he stated that in Africa, Nigeria has made a substantial progress with the enactment and passage of National Tobacco Control Act, NTCA, (2015).
The Act, Ayodele explained, is a customised version of the 2005 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which is aimed at addressing the perceived concerns relating to production and marketing of tobacco products.
He argued that “the passage and signing of the NTCA presents a far-reaching step to ensure a balanced way to address whatever concerns remain in the production and sales of tobacco products in Nigeria. Groups such as Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth which once spearheaded and hailed the passage of the Act are pointing fingers at others for its non-implementation.
â€œThe implementation of the Act is within the ambit of the executive branch to enforce whatever regulations that are contained in the bill. It is erroneous to blame industry players for the Actâ€™s non-implementation.”
Ayodele stressed that â€œit is ironic that rather than liaising with the appropriate organ of government to understand the non-implementation of NTCA, anti-tobacco groups are now blaming the same industry for its non-implementation.
â€œBeyond mere slogans and fear tactics, industry players have always insisted on regulations that are fair, credible and enforceable. The slogan, World No Tobacco Day, is at variance with the realities and peopleâ€™s preference to any product not just to tobacco but to other products. Groups opposing tobacco presupposes that its production and consumption should be banned.
â€œSuch willful thinking, should it be achieved, will erode the progress already made in the sector. What is sensible is to come up with policy alternatives that can strengthen the existing ones.â€
He noted that â€œthe top three killer diseases (Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Diarrhea) show no direct or near correlation with the consumption of the tobacco products. This calls into question the credibility of data released on the number of people who will supposedly be affected by smoking in the year 2025.â€
Ayodele added that â€œof course the health concerns of Nigerians should not be treated with kid-gloves. Every responsible government will want its population to be healthy. However, banning a legal product has its unintended consequences because people will explore other avenues to get the same products no matter how illegal.
â€œThis will pose a significant threat to Nigeriaâ€™s development not just in terms of loss of revenue that legitimate businesses pay; the activities of smugglers could further exacerbate the complex security challenge in Nigeria and further increase criminalsâ€™ nefarious activities.
â€œWe are all living witnesses to when a ban was placed on the importation of rice which lead to the increase in smugglersâ€™ activities. Rather than resorting to name calling, groups opposed to the tobacco industry should come up with evidence based solutions not merely engaging in arguments based on emotions and fear-factors, or parroting what their funders intended.
â€œRegulations of products such as tobacco and alcohol all over the world have always been stringent. In the case of Nigeria, tobacco advertisements and other related marketing activities have been prohibited since the 1990s which the industry has complied. The implementation of the regulations is at the behest of government not the industry operators.
â€œWith the World No Tobacco Day just celebrated, Nigeria, as a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, should ensure that local laws that are consistent with WHO framework are enforced by relevant organs of government. It is sheer ignorance to blame industry operators for non- implementationâ€, Ayodele observed.