The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and a host of civil society groups have called on the Senate to approve strong draft National Tobacco Control Regulations that the House of Representatives approved last week.
They also say they will monitor every step in the regulation process to ensure that what was approved on the floor of the House of Representatives is what is reflected in the final outcome at the Senate.
Groups that made the call at a press briefing in Abuja include the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), Gatefield Limited, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), among others.
In her intervention, Hilda Ochefu, Sub regional Coordinator, West Africa of the CTFK said it was disappointing that Nigeria is still trailing behind Ghana, Senegal and other African countries on tobacco control when in fact, Nigeria should be a leader on the continent.
Ochefu said that for instance, on the provision on Graphic Health Warnings that tobacco companies want to cover only as much as 50 per cent of display area of tobacco packs, Senegal was already implementing about 70 per cent. The Gambia enforces 75 per cent while countries like India and China approved 85 per cent.
She wants the Senate to pass the regulations approved by the Senate before the expiration of the current legislative year on June 6.
Oluseun Esan of the NTCA said Nigerians want the Senate to remain focused in the face of tobacco industry manipulations and retain the strong regulations the House of Representatives approved, even as he recommended that the weak ones should be improved upon also.
Speaking earlier, Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi said the devastating impact of the tobacco menace was captured well recently by Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara who alerted that about 17,000 Nigerians die annually due to tobacco-induced illnesses.
Oluwafemi insisted that the deaths are needless and avoidable but continue to happen because the tobacco industry exploits the partial implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015.
According to him, the tobacco companies now market so-called innovative products into the Nigerian market to entice kids and conscript them into smoking to replace a dying generation of smokers.
He however wants the Senate to retain strong provisions approved by the House of Representatives. They include: all forms of tobacco products shall carry health warnings, stronger and better defined prohibited packaging and Principal Display Areas for all forms of tobacco products.
Others include: 50 per cent GHW on all tobacco products; to be automatically increased to 80 per cent after four years, comprehensive annual reporting system from Tobacco Industry to Federal Ministry of Health, increase smoke-free areas, mandatory and uniform notices, and duty of owners to enforce and report and stringent conditions for DSAs. Ban of TAPS in DSAs.
They also demanded that duty to warn is placed on author, producer and publisher of artistic and journalistic works depicting tobacco use. This was a loophole in the Act, ban of point of sale display, and prescribed price list, more enforcement officers with community level presence, annual licensing per variant for manufacturers and importers, and annual license for distributors, reporting, public hearing, accessibility of information, and monitoring frameworks, stronger penalties and Tobacco Control Fund gets license fees.