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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fumes of fury on Big Tobacco

-Olukorede Yishau

From the Americas to Europe and the continent of Africa, these arecertainly not the best of times for tobacco giants, no thanks to thecampaigns against smoking, which have necessitated calls for morecontrol and regulation against the tobacco industry. In the US,President Barack Obama has signed into law the FDA bill, which for thefirst time in the history of the country introduced some level ofregulation into the hitherto unregulated industry.

In Africa, the tobacco industry has continued to thrive after theywere clamped out of Europe. The continent is gradually catching upwith Asia as the most profitable region in terms of sales revenue andproduct development for Tobacco companies.

However, certain African countries are gradually rising up to thechallenges posed by the tobacco industry, Kenya has passed into law acomprehensive tobacco bill to regulate and curb the excesses of thetobacco companies in the country. Mauritius has adopted toughermeasures against the industry in terms of sales and advertisement andthe count of countries taking steps aimed at tobacco control keepsincreasing by the minute.

In Nigeria, several groups have in the past tried to draw theattention of the Nigerian public to the dangers of tobacco and itsattendant evils but with moderate success.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, Programme Manager Environmental RightsAction/friends of the Earth, said ‘’past governments in Nigeria havealways failed to recognise the problems associated with tobacco and infact with the tobacco industry; they were concerned about bringingforeign investment and in fact brought the biggest tobacco plant insub- Sahara Africa without recourse to the health implications of thepublic and all these have given no room for the civil society toproperly clamour for regulation for the industry".

Starting from Monday, July 20, the tobacco industry began anotherround of battle. This time, the field is at the National Assembly andthe gladiators of this renewed campaign for control within theindustry are led by Senator Olorunimbe Mamora in partnership withcivil society groups.The Senate Committee on Health has begun a publichearing on the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 sponsored by SenatorMamora, which seeks to regulate and control the use of advertisementof tobacco products, ensure proper labelling of tobacco products forsale in Nigeria, ban the supply of tobacco products to young persons,requires picture warnings on cigarette packs, stop the use of falsepromotions for sale of tobacco products and the creation of theNational Tobacco Control Committee.

Mamora said he was compelled to take on the industry after seeing whatthe industry has been silently doing to the public health system inthe country. The Senator disclosed that a recent survey done by theLagos State Government on the indicative health and economic costs onwhat tobacco currently inflicts on the state indicated over 9,527tobacco related cases were recorded in Lagos hospitals in the year2006 and that the state was subsidising the health costs of itscitizens by over N200,000. All these, according to him, have to bereduced and that the only way government can ensure that this isaccomplished is if control and regulation is introduced to the tobaccoindustry.

"We owe this country a lot, and part of our debt is to put laws whichwould safeguard the future of the coming generations if we controlorganisations, products and people who sell killer products.

"But in their objections to the proposed bill, representatives of thetobacco companies have claimed that steps aimed at introducinglegislation to the industry would lead to job cuts and companyclosures, a claim debunked by Oluwafemi.

According to him " those who say the regulation of the industry andparticularly this bill would lead to job losses are lying. in the BATplant in Ibadan they have the most sophisticated plant in Africa andthey do really need to employ many people. In reality they have lessthan 1000 people working in that plant, so why are they spreadingrumours of job loss when they know what they sell would kill over a100,000 people in a year.

"When asked about the level of support for the bill around governmentcircles he disclosed that the level of support the proposed bill hasreceived has been wonderful "for the first time we have a presidentwho sees the health of its citizen has its major priority and the wifeof the president is vehemently campaigning against cancer and we allknow tobacco causes cancer and the health minister has also offered tosupport the bill all the way.

"At a recent interactive dinner on the bill, the minister of Health,Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, disclosed that the Federal Governmentis committed to the enactment of laws committed to the check andcontrol the consumption of tobacco in the country. Osotimehin furtheradded "We should do everything possible to ban tobacco smoking becauseit does not add value at all. Some people talk about the economicvalue of tobacco companies, but I don’t believe there is any economicvalue because when they employ 20,000 people, they kill 100,000. Weshould try as much as possible not to do things that will add to theburden we suffer from HIV. So, we will try and put our weight behindthis bill".

Support for the proposed bill is not only coming from the governmentcorner, International organisations are deeply concerned about thesituation in Nigeria. Adeola Akinremi, Regional Coordinator for Africaof the Framework Convention Alliance disclosed that because Nigeria iskey factor in the fight against Tobacco on the continent all handsmust be on deck to ensure that the bill is supported and eventuallypassed into law." we all saw what the FDA law did in the USA, passing the Nigerian Lawwould not only have the same impact in Africa but it would also serveas the battle cry for other countries yet to initiate such measures intheir countries

"Many supporters of the bill feel this is the right time for governmentand the civil society to rally around each other and ensure that thefight against big tobacco companies is won.

Oluwafemi said, "this is the right time for Nigeria to protect andensure the health rights of its citizen and I am sure with this newgovernment we would be able to make sure that tobacco companies stopthe unrestricted initiation of Nigerian youths and women intosmoking".

Now that the public hearing has been concluded, it may not be wrong tosay that the entire nation and the global community is watching theIyabo-Obasanjo-Bello-led Senate Commiitte on Health to see how it goesabout the task of giving Nigeria a true legislation to regulate thetobacco.