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Friday, October 23, 2009

Group urges Senate to expedite action on Tobacco bill

By Ben Ezeamalu

Sequel to the July 20 and 21 senate public hearing on the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 (NTCB 2009) organised by the Senate Committee on Health, a non-governmental organisation, Environmental Rights Action/Friend of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), has urged the National Assembly to fast track the presentation of the bill before the Senate plenary.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, the programme manager of ERA/FoEN, made this call, yesterday, at a press briefing to update the media on the status of the NTCB 2009, in Lagos."The bill has passed the first and second reading, and there was a public hearing in July. Now we are expecting that the Senate Committee on Health will present the 'new bill' with the inputs of the public hearing to the plenary for discussion," said Mr. Oluwafemi.The National Tobacco Control Bill 2009The bill, sponsored by Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora, the senator representing Lagos East Constituency, sought to regulate and control the manufacture, sales, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products in the country.

While the bill had no provision for forcefully closing down tobacco factories, it attempted to control tobacco consumption so as to reduce the deaths, ill-health, social, economic, and environmental costs associated with tobacco use.It also sought to domesticate the World Health Organisation - initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which has already been ratified by 167 countries.

The FCTC is an internationally co-ordinated response to combat the tobacco epidemic. It tackles tobacco industry marketing campaigns executed in different countries and cigarette smuggling, often co-ordinated in many countries by the tobacco industries.Mr. Oluwafemi said tobacco companies and their agents finally debunked their initial tales of massive job losses, up to 500, 000, if the country implements effective tobacco control laws during the public hearing.

"In fact, the British American Tobacco Company of Nigeria, which controls over 82 percent of the Nigerian cigarette market, disclosed that it has only 850 staff. The Association of Tobacco Wholesalers and Association of Tobacco Retailers put their combined strength at about 4, 000," Mr. Oluwafemi said.Great expectationsAccording to Mr. Oluwafemi, the NTCB 2009 will not suffer implementation problems that previous public health bills have suffered."We'd learnt our lessons from those bills that there were no clear provisions about who is going to enforce what? And in cases where they overlap, who does what?

When you look at this bill clearly, it has everything well defined," he said.On October 20, the Osun State House of Assembly passed the Osun State Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Bill, 2009, making her the first and only state to pass the bill yet.Mr. Oluwafemi said though Osun State had made more progress than the national bill, the enthusiasm shown during the public hearing by members of the public and the parliamentarians would enhance the speedy passage of the bill."We don't have any doubt that the people in the senate, from their submissions during the preliminary and second hearing of this bill, will give Nigerians a strong public health bill," the environmentalist said.