Distinguished gentlemen of the press, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this very important press briefing. Today we are witnessing a very important milestone in the history of public health in Nigeria. Today, our dear country can hold her head up in the comity of nations that have put public health and safety of her citizens before profits. Today we are witnessing the birth of a very important bill, The National Tobacco Control Bill, second reading of which was taken earlier today by the Senate.
Dear friends, since 1999 when Democracy was established in Nigeria and the rule of law restored, many bills have been passed in the National Assembly, some of which I had my input. Today it is with joy and humility that I have presented to the senate a lead debate on a comprehensive tobacco control Bill that when finally passed and enforced will help save the lives of millions of Nigerians, especially the youths, and safeguard our collective future from a common pandemic threatening the 21st century- the tobacco pandemic.
Some of you may wonder why this bill is so important. I will answer that question by telling you about the dangers that tobacco poses to our country, Africa and the entire human race. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates cigarette smoking currently kills 5.4 million people every year. Over half of that causality will be recorded in developing countries like ours and if we fold our hands and do nothing, this century we are going to lose about 1 billion people to tobacco related diseases.
In Nigeria, you may be aware of the activities of the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) since the company began full scale manufacturing of cigarettes in Ibadan, Oyo state. While this 'investment' might have provided job opportunities for less than 1000 Nigerians, it is also responsible for the deaths of many thousands more. In 2006, Lagos state government discovered through a survey covering 11 hospitals in the state that 2 persons die each day from a tobacco related disease. The volume has since gone up. The 'investment' has also targeted our young people. You may wish to note that Lagos State Government in its characteristic responsible manner has gone to court on this matter.
Over the last years, you might have been aware of such programmes directly geared towards the young and vulnerable. The Wild & Wet, Rothmans groove, St Moritz fashion & Style, Experience IT promotion, EXPERIENCE Freshness all night party etc. That is not all; there have been attempts to reward youths who smoke cigarettes by the tobacco industry. Other events include 'Buy one for the price of two' and sale promotions where smokers win gifts such as flashy handsets, motorcycles, DVD camcorders, plasma TVs and several packs of cigarettes.
Recent statistics on youth smoking in Nigeria also presents a very sad picture. More of our young people are taking up smoking everyday. Not only that, about 100,000 of our young people including school children here in Abuja will pick up one of the over 15 billion cigarettes sold daily worldwide. Once they start they will get hooked, because the tobacco industry which manufactured the cigarettes has put a potent chemical inside it called nicotine which ensures the smoker is hooked on cigarettes.
Of course that is the plan of the tobacco industry. In Europe and the United States, strong tobacco control laws have forced the major tobacco industries to relocate to Africa and Asia. Also, profits are dwindling because the old customers have either died of their habit or totally quit smoking. The young and highly impressionable young people of Africa became the target and one of the ways they have successfully used to achieve this objective apart from the ones I have enumerated above is to sell cigarettes in sticks. By doing this they make cigarettes closer and readily available to our youths, they especially make sure that cigarette packs look attractive and pleasant in order to attract the young people.
Ladies and gentlemen, Tobacco is the only consumer good that kills half of those who use it according to the manufacturer's instructions. Realising these, countries around the world have set the pace to curtail the activities of the tobacco industry through legislations such that we have just taken the second reading today in order to reduce the death and economic burdens it placed on them. It is especially important for Nigeria to put forward laws that would protect our citizens, reduce deaths associated with smoking, save cost on treating people who got sick from tobacco and March on towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and achievement of the Seven Point Agenda of President Yar'Adua administration.
The bill will strengthen the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in our constitution to wit “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purposes of government” (S.14.2b).
This bill is important, not only for us but for the future generations to come. It is a comprehensive bill that covers all aspects of health as regards tobacco consumption. This bill covers such areas as advertising, smoke free public places, sponsorship, youth smoking, packaging, number of cigarettes a pack can contain, display of signs in public buildings, litigation and enforcement.
This Bill, seeks to repeal the Tobacco Smoking (Control) Act No.20 of 1990/CAP. T6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the domestication of the World Health Organisation initiated Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The FCTC came into force on February 27, 2005 .Nigeria signed the FCTC in June 2004 and ratified the treaty in October 2005 The FCTC is the global benchmark for the manufacturing, sale and distribution of tobacco products. Nigeria as a party to the treaty is obligated to implement all the provisions of the treaty. It currently has 168 signatories and 160 parties; an unprecedented record in the history of global treaties.
When this bill is passed, it will be an offence to sell or market tobacco products to persons under the age of 18. The sale of cigarettes by the sticks is also prohibited. All forms of adverts, sponsorship, testimonials, sales promotion are prohibited. Every cigarette pack is mandated to carry a special pictorial warning that covers half of the packet warning smokers about the dangers of smoking.
Besides, the rights of non smokers are guaranteed. We know the dangers associated with second hand smoke. Smoking does not only affect those who smoke, but also people who stay and inhale the smoke from their cigarettes. That is why there is a provision for smoke free public places so that people can enjoy clean air anytime they are out on their work without having to breathe the contamination from cigarettes. Ghana our next door neighbour would have gone smoke free effective January 1, 2009. Kenya, South Africa, Niger are all implementing smoke free policies
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this bill is that tobacco manufacturers will no longer be able to sell or put into the stream of commerce either by themselves or their agents any tobacco product within a one thousand metre radius of any place where minors congregate. This is a major achievement because our minors are exposed to cigarettes everywhere they go.
Gentlemen of the press, I will like to seize this opportunity to say thank you to all those who have contributed towards achieving this goal. I want to thank members of the tobacco control community especially for their consistency and steadfastness. I also want to thank you members of the media for all your support and I am counting on you for your support in the future. I also want to call all Nigerians to cooperate with us in enforcing and implementing this important public health laws.
I am optimistic that the future is bright, I am hopeful that with the commitment of the members of the National assembly towards delivering the dividends of democracy to our people , more public oriented bills such as this will continue to emanate from the National Assembly.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening and please enjoy the rest of the day.
Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora
Senate Deputy Minority Leader