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Friday, August 28, 2009

Cigarettes: Ban production not smoking

-Ahmed Raji

MOST people detest smoking. Even the "Turkish" smoker knows that it is not a healthy habit. That smoking poses a grave health hazard to both the actual and passive smokers is beyond argument. And what is more, nobody has been able to identify any benefit derivable from smoking.
Even medically, some say a daily glass of beer is good for the system. They say it clears the bowel. Nothing good is attributable to smoking. I challenge anyone to come up with any benefit derivable from smoking. The entire world over, it is being recommended that all cigarette packets should carry the warning: "Smoking is dangerous to health". Of late, other measures are being rolled out to discourage smoking. Some accounts have it that the death of over 20 million people yearly is traceable to smoking. In Turkey, which is the home of smoking, smoking is about to be banned in almost every public area.
In most parts of the Western world, smoking is not allowed in "public places". Anti-smoking law is about to be rolled out in Abuja and some other parts of Nigeria. But do all these measures constitute any enough deterrence to smoking considering the gravity of damage it does to humanity? I think not. All these prohibitions have not affected the cigarette market in any major way. People still smoke their lives away. It needs not be repeated, the nexus between cigarette smoking and hard drugs like cocaine, cannabis, heroine etc.
A once and for all pragmatic solution will be to outlaw the production of the product in all forms. And that will amount to tackling the problem from root rather than attending to the effect. A grace period of not more than 12 months should be given to all producers of cigarettes to wind down while a comprehensive diversification scheme should be put in place to switch them over to other lines of business. Our pharmacologists and social scientists should be tasked on how to carry out the required therapy on chronic smokers and addicts. It will not be a misstatement to contend that the proposed diversification exercise programme will not cost the world up to five per cent of what the Iraqi war consumed.
Banning the smoking of cigarette while production of cigarette is allowed looks like "a collective mockery of our collective intelligence". The world should rise up to the challenge. Banning the production may also assist in the war against global warming. Nigeria can show example by outlawing all forms of cigarette making in Nigeria and also banning importation and smoking of same. Even the World Trade Organisation (W.T.O.) won't dare complain if we close our borders to cigarette.
And I take this opportunity to appeal to our "smoking leaders" to see this as a sacrifice for the greater good of all. It is a fact that smoking is not an easy habit to quit. But with determination, it is achievable just as this writer took his last stick in 2006.
Notwithstanding doubts as to the sustainability of some of the recent law suits in Nigeria against the major cigarette producers, we must commend the ingenuity of both the plaintiffs and their counsel. Their efforts have further confirmed the menace which production of cigarettes constitutes to our healthy living. Even non-smokers face the danger of passive smoking.
Distinguished senators and very honourable members of the house, the health of the nation is in your hands. If only you can pass a bill banning production of cigarette and allied products Nigerians and the world will forever remember you. You should resist the professional lobbyists with deep pockets who may not be bothered by the death of fellow human beings. Save life please. Initiate the bill today and pass it with the same dispatch with which the Senate passed the 2009 appropriation bill.
Smoking can be a terrible addiction. There is this good but nasty friend of mine who promised his wife that when their first child was "delivered" he would quit smoking. When reminded of his solemn promise after the arrival of the first child, my friend told the wife that he did not "deliver" a baby as a man cannot so do hence he has continued to smoke his Benson & Hedges in spite of all appeals. Despite his blood pressure problem, my friend is yet to quit up till this moment. And his health suffers! Production of cigarette must be outlawed to save the life of millions in my friend's shoes.



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tobacco use kills 6 million annually

by Joanne McCarthy

Tobacco use kills an estimated six million people a year, and costs $500 billion annually, the 2009 edition of The Tobacco Atlas has revealed.

The Tobacco Atlas, published by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation and released at the Livestrong Global Cancer Summit currently taking place in Dublin, describes Ireland as ‘among world leaders in tobacco control’.

It confirmed that Ireland and the UK are among the countries with the strongest tobacco control policies, delivering both economic and health benefits. However, it revealed that the Irish economy lost US$980 million (€686 million) in 2007 because of tobacco use.

The economic costs emerged as a result of lost productivity, misused resources, missed opportunities for taxation and premature death. Because one in four smokers die and many more become ill during their most productive years, income loss devastates families and communities, according to the Atlas.

However, Ireland has benefited from positive steps to control tobacco, the Atlas said. It has ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global treaty endorsed by more than 160 countries and recommended by the World Health Organization. The smoking ban in workplaces, tobacco tax increases, effective mass media campaigns, pictorial warnings on packages and advertising restrictions have all been of benefit. Irish people who want to quit smoking receive subsidised access to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and certain clinical cessation services, the Atlas points out.

According to The Tobacco Atlas, more than two million cancer deaths per year will be attributable to tobacco by 2015. It highlights that the danger of tobacco is preventable through public policies, such as tobacco taxes, advertising bans, smoke-free public places and effective health warnings on packages.

The Tobacco Atlas has confirmed that the tobacco industry has shifted its marketing and sales efforts to countries that have less effective public health policies and fewer tobacco control resources in place.

As a result of this, most people who die from tobacco-related illnesses are in low and middle-income countries. Since 1960, global tobacco production has increased three-fold in low and middle-resource countries while halving in high resource countries.

The three-day Livestrong Global Cancer Summit is currently taking place in the RDS in Dublin. It is bringing together more than 500 world leaders, NGOs and individual advocates to showcase commitments to cancer control. Livestrong is an initiative of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.


SOURCE

Friday, August 21, 2009

RE: Much Ado About Tobacco


This sort of 'syndicated dare-devil' journalism will only stripe you of your pedigree. If only you have been following the year’s long campaign to make you and your families have the choice of breathing free air devoid of the contaminations from tobacco smoking, you will not be risking your precious integrity to publish syndicated materials from this merchant of death.

I read with disdain and pitying your ignorance on the importance of putting in place a new tobacco control laws in Nigeria. Wondering why the need to cook up assumption with regards to the Senate Committee on Health’s recent public hearing on the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009. This is another media stunt well done and for the 'dough', simple. That's not ‘just’ at all. It is with the same ‘damning all, throwing cautions to the wind attitudes’ with which you penned your name on this story that these tobacco manufactures are targeting your little children. Their strategy is simple; caught them young, use baits, hunt for financially pressed media voices to propagate falsehood and you know the rest. They are out orchestrating a device targeted at your children and you are saying ‘much ado about tobacco’, what kind of a father’s heart have you got?
Secondly, you need to know that journalists all the world over are playing prominent roles in the promotion of tobacco control advocacy because the pursuit of truth is just. It is sad therefore that you suddenly silenced your journalism ethic of objectivity in the face of Naira and to the detriment of your nation. Or was it in foreign currency you were paid to push this through and knowing it would malign the hard earned credibility of very newspaper. You could have written to carefully examine the matter from its economic and health perspective as the Distinguished Senate President David Mark spoke so profoundly while declaring the public hearing opened. But this undeserving as an editorial material underscores the importance of all the efforts. In other word, the investment of time and money expended by the Senate, the Senate Health Committee to deem it fit to repeal an old law with a more proactive one and in order to address a very critical dilemma is unnecessary.

Writing in assumption without taking a trip to Oke Ogun and other tobacco growing farms to discover the truth is unacceptable. Have you compared it with a similar antecedent of our Cocoa production era and its impact on national life? Now bring it down to the reality, if this is the experiences of the tobacco farmers BAT and her accolades are spending mega billions to sing and dance in the media they are creating jobs for. If you have consulted with the body of research done by World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and several other global agencies most trusted on the subject, then one would think maybe, just maybe, the anti tobacco movement got it all wrong. Nigerians also deserve to know from you if there are benefits acquiring from smoking. Your essay is biased and greatly lacked in details to the detriment of the good of all mankind.

If this bill is not just, then the series of ‘evil-intended’ publications going about in the media, obviously sponsored by those who are threatened by the mere mentioning of the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 and aimed at pitching two Nigerian patriot against the other to discredit the collective will and genuine intention to guarantee the rights of smokers and non-smokers in this country. Perhaps, if there exist ‘plenty noise about nothing’, it is the continuous fabrication of falsehood by your kind working for the Big Tobacco (Merchant of Death) to blindfold truth. Your refusal to see any significant goal portray you as an enemy of the people in that you are only interested in maintaining the status quo for BAT and others merchants. If we listen to you, then we would be sending the next generation of Nigerian youths into drug dependency, we would be licensing cigarette manufactures to keep killing our loved ones, to make us spend more on healthcare treating preventable illness as well as dependants of the dead – deaths caused by tobacco smoking.

What is sinister about a bill conceived with all genuine intention to repeal another because the reality demands for it? This is the reason you consented that ‘this kind of bill should be seen as a good thing…’ It is confusing that you commended the Tobacco Control Act 1990 and refuse to see the need for its replacement with a proactive one even when such is expedient. More than you can imagine, these tobacco companies knows what they are doing. By successfully using you as a willing ally to push these ‘white lies’ shows their desperation and callousness at playing the game. Their entire move to suppress truth, to delay the passage of the bill and distort reality with massive advertising strategies is just ‘buying time’ to kill more Nigerians. You should have requested for the recording of the public hearing and see how BAT trembled and shake discovering that the civil nature of the bill also have criminal appeal.

For a reminder, the singular act of penning your name against falsehood will go down in history. Let's imagine that you even smoke and want your children or relatives to do so. That is yours and their rights. As you quoted, "equity follows the law if it is just", where then is the right of the non-smokers and smokers should the later decide to seek redress in the court of law for damages resulting from taking a product made by BAT? Is tobacco not classified under drug and why should it be sold by an ‘Aboki’ and to a minor. Or don’t you think, all of these are missing in the Tobacco Control Act 1990, and that, it is in order be just (putting tobacco in proper perspective, economy versus health, weighing the gains over loss to the Nigerians) that the Senate thought it fit to review this provision. More so, the position of the Nigerian Senate on this bill is clear and just. These efforts deserved to be commended even as the bill scale through its final path to passage.

Adeyinka Olugbade
Programme Manager
JATH

Much ado about tobacco

-Mobolaji Sanusi

What is the big deal about a Tobacco bill? This is the multi-million Naira question that followers of controversies trailing the above bill before the Senate Committee on Health may be seeking answers for. The bill is aimed at repealing the Tobacco (Control) Act 1990 and to enact the National Tobacco Control bill 2008. Its stated goals like the 1990 one are laudable – to provide for the regulation or control of production, manufacture sale, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco or tobacco products and other related matters.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Adeleke Mamora, a medical doctor, ostensibly in tandem with some groups of lawyers in the country. Ordinarily, this kind of bill should be seen as a good thing considering the fact that since the tenure of military president Ibrahim Babangida, the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti who was then Minister of Health, championed the battle for regulation of tobacco smoking. It was then that the issue of public smoking and compulsory inscription of ‘tobacco smoking is dangerous to your health’ on packet of cigarettes, on billboards and other forms of advertisement were enforced.
Thus, the current bill is not out to achieve any significant goal different from what Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti achieved during the military era. But the bill that is still at the public hearing, stage in the Senate is generating so much controversy and this has attracted intense public attention. Many are wondering why there is no much ado about this new Bill for an Act to repeal the Tobacco (Control) Act 1990.
For this reason, I have taken time to look for the bill, got a copy and have since realized that the bill is as needless as the artificial controversy surrounding it. Certain provisions of the bill (sections 40-45) question the professed altruistic motive of most promoters of the bills: it is important to ask whether most promoters of bills put national interest over personal gains in their pursuits of legislative enactments. Whatever their motives, it is also germane to point out that that is why there are levels of checks in legislative drafting – first, second, and third readings and even the stage of public hearings in legislative enactment processes. But does the National Assembly legislators adhere to this in the overall interest of the nation or just see it as something just there for being there sake? Could it be that the effort by the Senate Health Committee to play by the rules and not allow arm twisting actually led to the on-going controversy on the matter?
What I do know is that there is something sinister about the purport of the bill which might not completely be in the overall interest of the nation. The issue of Child Rights that came out of the bills public hearing that has generated heated debates between Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and Mrs. Maryam Uwais might be a decoy aimed at blackmailing somebody so that the bill can enjoy easy passage.
Let us get it right ab initio that cigarette smoking is without equivocation dangerous to the health of both young and old persons. This is acknowledged by the Tobacco companies that agreed with the legislation that compels them to inscribe the warning that cigarette smoking is dangerous to health. Professor Ransome-Kuti himself was a chain smoker of cigarette and this warning would not even deter him and many others in his shoes from smoking. There are several people in high places, including state governors whose governments are suing Tobacco companies who are today chain smokers too. What moral right do these sets of people have to sue the cigarette producing companies? Among the downtrodden in this country, millions engage in legal cigarette smoking. It is at least better than smoking of marijuana and other illicit drugs. The present cases before the court are stalled because of unfavourable rules of evidence which the bill is avariciously planned to cure when passed in to law.
Some of these curious provisions in the bill attempt to empower the government to sue and make claims from tobacco companies for cost incurred from treating tobacco related ailment victims. For example, this provision presupposes that there are free medical services in the country. This is a fallacious assumption as the social safety nets in the country are almost zero. So, the proposed recourse to legal actions by states through the services of certain group of lawyers is laughable. This is not within the jurisprudential sociological theory of law espoused by Rosco Pound. These state governments and their ambitious lawyers behind the bill should also study more of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Realistic School of legal Jurisprudence. Any piece of law worth its salt should be made for the society and not vice-versa. Any law or provisions of it that is out to force itself on the society would only benefit few individuals for a short while before subsequently roiling into oblivion.
The all important legal principle; volunti non fit injuria (voluntary assumption of risk) in the Law of Tort applies in the case of smokers of cigarette. If after the warning and other precautions, people still go ahead and smoke, nobody or entity should be blamed but the smokers themselves.
Morally, some of the state governors who engage in smoking with some of their cabinet members should not have approved the suits being pursued on their behalf by some lawyers in the first instance. Within the Presidency today, there are smokers who are not ready to quit the habit. Would the state be right to claim compensation on behalf of leaders and others no matter their ages who voluntarily take to smoking as habit? I hope this bill is not out to benefit few lawyers who are its covertly promoters?
Most parents smoke cigarettes and even send their wards to buy same for them. These children copy the habit from them. Should anyone or an entity be blamed for this? This is why the issue of prohibiting communications of any form by entities producing cigarettes becomes deluding or the selling of cigarettes within particular radius from certain public places hypocritical. One, it is through advertisement on the danger of smoking that smokers can be more aware of the risk they voluntarily put upon themselves.
Not allowing sale within a certain radius or outright prohibition would make illegal tobacco sale business thrive thereby making monitoring difficult. Tobacco smoking would be a difficult thing to eradicate in any country. In Christianity as well as Islam, it is one thing that is not prohibited but strands condemned because of its hazardous health implications. There should be moderation in the mode of its legislation. What the country should bother about is the creation of standard and effective monitoring through agencies like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC). One of the tobacco companies, British-America tobacco, reportedly had paid tax in excess of over N80 billion since 2001 and gives employment to hundreds of Nigerians from its 150 million dollar factory. This is aside its corporate social responsibilities that gulped hundreds of millions of Naira too.
The question is: Can Nigeria afford to trade off the sector at this point through this draconian bill that might send companies operating therein out of business via needless, avoidable law suits- at a time most big companies are relocating to neighbouring countries? The answer is in the negative

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do you watch your intake?

Nigerian parliament debates tobacco restrictions

New tobacco control legislation is being debated in the Nigerian parliament with strong backing from anti-tobacco groups and health organisations.

The debate was brought about after an initiative by anti-tobacco campaigners to counter growing cigarette smoking, particularly among teenagers.

It is believed about 25 percent of Nigerian teenagers, which is double the smoking rate among men, are hooked on tobacco,

Individual cigarettes in Nigeria sell for seven cents each, and the Nigerian parliament is responding with a tobacco control bill that would impose smoking bans, increase taxes and impose advertising restrictions.


SOURCE

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nigeria Considers Tough Tobacco Control Legislation

-Gilbert da Costa

The Nigerian parliament is currently debating sweeping new tobacco control legislation in a bid to break the growing tobacco addiction in the country. The bill has strong backing from anti-tobacco groups and health organizations.

"Change starts from now. I dare to be different. I will remain smoke-free. I am the future, and the future starts now, So help me God. I am smoke free!!!," recite students at Shepherd Secondary School in Ketu in Lagos.

Students of the Shepherd Secondary School in Ketu, a poor neighborhood in Nigeria's sprawling city of Lagos, recite a "no-smoking pledge" at the end of a two-hour anti-tobacco lecture. The program is part of a grassroots initiative by anti-tobacco campaigners to counter growing cigarette smoking, particularly among teens in Nigeria.

About 25 percent of Nigerian teens, some as young as 10, are hooked on tobacco, double the smoking rate among men.

Salau Moshood, a 17-year-old student, told VOA what he learned."

I heard that smoking is not good for people at the age of 10 years and upwards," said Salau Moshood. "It makes them to die young, and makes them not to reach the place they supposed to reach. My advice for people that smoke is that they have to stop it because, if they don't stop it, they will have something that will affect them in their future."

Individual cigarettes sells for as little as seven cents each, and analysts fear that tobacco use in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 140 million people, could continue to rise.

The Nigerian parliament has responded with a tobacco control bill that would impose smoking bans, increase taxes and impose advertising restrictions. If passed, this could be the biggest tobacco crackdown in the history of Nigeria.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, told VOA that the assembly has a duty to protect the health of Nigerians."

Under Section 14 of our constitution, we have an obligation, which we all swore to, in terms of upholding the provisions of the constitution," said Senator Mamora. "That section says, the welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. So, we just need to safeguard the welfare of the people. It is important to us."

Even the Nigerian government, which previously granted generous concessions to tobacco companies, has withdrawn its support and filed a $45-billion suit against tobacco companies for allegedly targeting young Nigerians.

Senator Mamora says of the tobacco industry:"

They are no more than merchants of death, as far as I am concerned," he said.But not everyone is enthusiastic about a tobacco crackdown in Nigeria. A group of tobacco farmers from the southwest issued a passionate appeal to the senate committee on health during its just-concluded public hearing on the bill. The farmers asked legislators to consider the plight of thousands of poor tobacco farmers. Okeke Abiola spoke for the group.

"Our concern is that, if tobacco growing is banned without any alternatives - and I must mention quickly that we don't have any industry in Okeogu area, nothing other than this tobacco growing - we are concerned that without any alternatives, we will be the ones to bear the brunt," said Okeke Abiola. "For instance, if tobacco growing is banned, instantly 300,000 farmers will be affected.

"The World Health Organization says more than 80 percent of tobacco deaths will be in developing countries by 2030.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nigeria: Fast Track the Tobacco Control Bill

DailyTrust: Editorial

Abuja — The Senate's decision to commence public hearing last week on the Nigeria National Tobacco Control (NNTC ) bill, which is aimed at domesticating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ( FCTC ) has once again brought to the fore the debate on the societal cost of tobacco production and consumption in Nigeria. Nigeria ratified the FCTC treaty in 2005, but little is being done to regulate tobacco production and consumption in the country.
Sponsored by Senator Olorunnibe Mamora ( AC, Lagos ), the proposed law which is an upgrade of the existing, but defective Tobacco Control Act of 1990 seeks to control the production, sale and use of tobacco products in the country. The bill would also, among other provisions, seeks to regulate the involvement of tobacco companies in corporate social responsibility ( CSR ), a tool many tobacco firms use as part of the arguments to justify their presence in any community. More interesting is the provision which requires tobacco firms to go beyond the written warnings on cigarette packs, to using picture of people harmed by smoking, and this will occupy at least one- third of the pack to warn consumers. Similarly, if the bill is passed, it will be against the law to sell tobacco products within one kilometre of churches, mosques, schools and hospitals.
Indeed, over the years, attempt by pressure groups to convince governments at all levels to take stringent measures against tobacco production and its consumption fell on deaf ears following spirited fight from tobacco firms and other pro-tobacco lobbyists who argued that such actions would lead to the loss of 500,000 jobs across the country. But as the Senate president, David Mark pointed out at the public hearing, "Although the tobacco industry is economically significant, it is only the living that can enjoy the wealth". It is against this background that we support the proposed bill, more so that it is coming at a time when some state governments have taken the initiative to institute legal actions against tobacco companies whose products are alleged to be causing the deaths of many Nigerians and of luring youths into smoking in order to enhance profits margin. Already, the Federal Government and some states like Oyo, Kano, Osun and Gombe are pursuing anti-tobacco cases both at the state and national assemblies.
Though the nation presently lacks a comprehensive data on the deaths caused by tobacco-related illnesses, a research recently conducted by a non-governmental organisation, the Coalition Against Tobacco (CAT) indicated that 280,000 Nigerians died annually as a result of tobacco-induced sicknesses, warning that the number may double in the near future if not checked. Also, in 2006, a research carried out in Lagos revealed that at least two people die daily from tobacco-related diseases; translating to 60 persons losing their lives monthly. These figures exclude passive smokers (who inhale the smoke of others and end up having heart disease, lung cancer and a host of other illnesses).
It is important to note that tobacco smoking and the industry itself is in retreat in developed economies. In fact, in the last two decades, tobacco firms began to relocate their operations to Africa and other under-developed nations due to the stringent regulations introduced in Europe and North America. This is aimed at curtailing the rise in tobacco- induced illnesses, resulting in a number of deaths, especially among youths who constitutes the productive base of any nation. We therefore need to borrow a leaf from the west and regulate the infiltration of tobacco firms into the country under the guise of industrialisation. Though we know it would be a tough decision for the Senators to choose between the economy and the health implication of tobacco, there is need however for the lawmakers to demonstrate courage and show commitment in this direction.
As the nation awaits the passage of the bill, government at all levels must also intensify public enlightenment campaigns on the health implication of tobacco consumption. We also expect the health ministry to carry out a comprehensive research and analysis on the impact of cigarette smoking in order to produce a data that would serve as a reference point in the future when the need arise. This is imperative because it would be foolhardy for the country to always rely on data produced by foreign organisations for our national development.




Monday, August 10, 2009

Ondo battles Big Tobacco

Damisi Ojo

Ondo State Government has joined the crusade to reduce tobacco-induced illnesses and deaths occasioned by cigarette smoking. The state is on the verge of instituting a legal action against tobacco companies for allegedly luring youths into smoking in order to enhance the companies’ profit margin. Ondo believes smoking habits seriously hamper public health and strain government’s financial base. Already, some states including Oyo, Kano, Osun, Gombe and the Federal Government are pursuing anti-tobacco cases both at the state and national assemblies. A bill to this effect is sponsored at the Senate by Lagos Senator, Olorunnibe Mamora.
A non-governmental organisation, the Coalition Against Tobacco (CAT), at a workshop it organised recently in Akure, the state capital, said the programme was meant to sensitise the citizenry on the ongoing court action against tobacco industries in the state.
A resource person from the State Ministry of Health, Mr. O.O. Akinsote said the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics showed that about 5.4m people died of tobacco-related diseases in 2006. This makes it one death in every 6.5 seconds. Akinsote also stressed that a survey conducted on 12 government-owned health facilities in Lagos indicated that at least two persons died everyday from tobacco related diseases. According to him, this is more fatal than AIDS branded the "killer disease".
He revealed that a recent annual report of the British-American Tobacco Company (BATC) stated that major profits raked in by tobacco companies came from Nigeria, while over 20 brands of cigarettes were on sale in the country’s open market.
The expert urged the state lawmakers to pass a bill prohibiting tobacco smoking in states like Osun, Oyo, Kano and others. He said the group would soon sponsor a bill at the state parliament apart from the litigation process that would commence soon.
The Former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osibajo had on April 30, 2007 sued five tobacco companies in the country seeking special and anticipatory damages against the tobacco companies.
Akinsote disclosed that Lagos State government spent N216,000 each on two persons that died of tobacco related diseases in its state hospitals while individuals spent an additional N70,000.
Scores of other resource persons on anti-tobacco crusade made presentations at the sensitisation workshop.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The continued fight to control smoking (2)

-Emmanuel Ogala


There is no up-to-date data showing how many Nigerians are smokers or how many die of tobacco related illnesses, but the floor of the senate has been gripped with excitement since it started hearing on a bill to control the sale of tobacco last week.
Research conducted in 1988 by the Federal Ministry of Health showed that nine million Nigerians were smokers, out of which 3.5 million smoked an average of 20 sticks daily. This led to the promulgation of a decree banning smoking in public spaces. In 2006, research carried out in Lagos revealed that two people die daily from tobacco related illnesses in the state.
The tobacco industry is a bug-bear for many health activists and government institutions, locally and internationally, so it was no surprise that a National Tobacco Control Bill which seeks to control the production, sale and use of tobacco in Nigeria was debated by the public in the senate chamber early last week. The bill is sponsored by Adeleke Olorunimbe Mamora (AC, Lagos state).
The National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 is an upgrade of the Tobacco Control Act of 1990 and a replica of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Nigeria ratified the FCTC treaty in October 2005.
The bill was welcomed by health organisations and environmentalists but, as expected, there was solid opposition from tobacco companies, their suppliers, traders, community associations of tobacco producing communities and others connected economically to tobacco production.
The bill is a double-edged sword: while it promises to save the lives of about 6.5 million Nigerian smokers whom activists from the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) say are on the ‘death row’ due to tobacco addiction, it will also lead to the loss of about 500,000 jobs across the nation, according to pro-tobacco lobbyists.
“We stand between health and economy,” David Mark, the senate president, said while declaring the public hearing open. He, however, noted that although the tobacco industry is economically significant, it is only the living that can enjoy the wealth.
The case for production Oloye Gbade Isola, national secretary of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes, said British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) is a major business concern in Ibadan. He said the company might find it difficult to operate under a regulatory legislation that is choking.
“The company will eventually wind up,” he said. “To those who have benefited from BATN’s presence, its exit will be a calamity.” Saka Muniru, representing the Ibadan Progressive Union, also told the Senate that the closure of the BATN factory located in Ibadan would lead to the loss of more than 500,000 jobs. In his view, the bill will drive away investors. He therefore pleaded that the new bill should only include measures to regulate the production of cigarettes in the country rather than strangle existing companies.
Tony Okwoju,Area Head Regional Affairs at BATN, the largest cigarette producing companyin Nigeria, promised that his company will comply with the provisions of the bill whenever it is signed into law.
However, he said there are components of the proposed bill that are extreme and would have ‘unintended consequences’ on the industry or even make it impossible for legal companies to operate yet will not achieve the desired goal of reducing the impact of tobacco on public health.
“We have seen cases where extreme regulation has resulted in an increase in the levels of illicit trade,” Mr. Okwoju said. “We believe that the purpose of a tobacco control law should be the reduction of the impact of tobacco on public health. It should not be to force legal tax-paying tobacco companies out of business.”
The case against Environmental and health activists argue that the hazards of smoking far outweigh the benefits, as few Nigerians are directly or indirectly on the payroll of tobacco companies.
. They insist that tobacco farmers in Nigeria could easily shift to other crops, such as cassava, which has high demand in the international market.
“Besides, Nigeria still imports tobacco leaves at a mere 5% duty, which makes locally produced tobacco unattractive,” Uche Onyeagocha of Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (FoEN) said.
The bill, amongst other provisions, seeks to regulate the involvement of tobacco companies in corporate social responsibility (CSR), a tool many tobacco companies use as part of the arguments to justify their presence in any community.
“It is simply a decoy to replace the dead smokers and keep the government’s eye away from regulating its expansion,” Adeola Akinremi, African coordinator of Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), an intergovernmental policy
organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, said. “What social responsibility can a company whose product kills offer?” The bill also seeks to establish a National Tobacco Committee (NATOC) to monitor the implementation of the restrictions in the bill. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) presently has the responsibility of regulating tobacco sale and distribution.
The devil is in the bill When the bill is eventually passed, tobacco companies will be required to go beyond the written warning on cigarette packs, to using pictures of people harmed by smoking, and this which will occupy at least one-third of the cover to warn consumers.
It will also be against the law to sell tobacco products within one kilometre of churches, mosques, schools and hospitals when the bill is passed.
This provision particularly angered a group called Concerned Tobacco Retailers. “This means we cannot sell at all in this country!” Luka Vindi, secretary to the organization, said.
Other provisions in the bill include: prohibition of smoking in public places, ban on the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18, and prohibition of the sale of tobacco in single sticks. When passed, cigarettes will be sold only in a pack of 20.
Also, the bill prohibits mail delivery of cigarettes to consumers, and provides that all tobacco meant to be consumed in Nigeria must bear a mark indicating that it is for the Nigerian market only; while those meant for export should be clearly marked too. This, they say, will help curb smuggling of tobacco products.
Although it will be a tough decision for the senators to choose between the economy and the health implications of tobacco, the senate president has promised to make every senator declare his/her stance publicly when the bill is up for passage.
Legislative drama Part of the drama at the emotive public hearing was the altercation between the chairman of the senate committee on health, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, and Maryam Uwais, wife of the former chief justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Uwais.
Mrs Uwais was angry that Mrs Obasanjo-Bello refused to allow some children present on the floor to speak. She later sent a letter to the senate to complain aboutthis.
In an interview with NEXT, Mrs Uwais said:“What happened was that there was a hearing on the tobacco and I have been involved in a related litigation. We’ve been suing tobacco companies and trying to get them to stop selling to children, and around sport centres and schools.
“We have also been supporting Senator Mamora who had produced a bill for tobacco control which is more effective than the other law that has been in existence.
We went for the public hearing and I was able to speak on the first day. I spoke about my role as a child rights advocate and how tobacco affects children.
“I was allowed to speak. But the following day, other members of ourteam were going to speak, so I went. I noticed in the audience, the three children. I don’t know them and I have never seen them before.
They attempted to speak but the chairperson said no. I stood up and she said ‘sit down, I am not going to allow you to address me on this issue, as a mother I am to protect these children. They are being brought here to be paraded.’ Meanwhile a lot of people had come to testify that children are stakeholders. All I wanted to do was make her realise that she was wrong.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The continued fight to control smoking

-Emmanuel Ogala

There is no up-to-date data showing how many Nigerians are smokers or how many die of tobacco related illnesses, but the floor of the senate has been gripped with excitement since it started hearing on a bill to control the sale of tobacco last week.

Research conducted in 1988 by the Federal Ministry of Health showed that nine million Nigerians were smokers, out of which 3.5 million smoked an average of 20 sticks daily. This led to the promulgation of a decree banning smoking in public spaces. In 2006, research carried out in Lagos revealed that two people die daily from tobacco related illnesses in the state.

The tobacco industry is a bug-bear for many health activists and government institutions, locally and internationally, so it was no surprise that a National Tobacco Control Bill which seeks to control the production, sale and use of tobacco in Nigeria was debated by the public in the senate chamber early last week. The bill is sponsored by Adeleke Olorunimbe Mamora (AC, Lagos state).

The National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 is an upgrade of the Tobacco Control Act of 1990 and a replica of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Nigeria ratified the FCTC treaty in October 2005.

The bill was welcomed by health organisations and environmentalists but, as expected, there was solid opposition from tobacco companies, their suppliers, traders, community associations of tobacco producing communities and others connected economically to tobacco production.

The bill is a double-edged sword: while it promises to save the lives of about 6.5 million Nigerian smokers whom activists from the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) say are on the 'death row' due to tobacco addiction, it will also lead to the loss of about 500,000 jobs across the nation, according to pro-tobacco lobbyists.

"We stand between health and economy," David Mark, the senate president, said while declaring the public hearing open. He, however, noted that although the tobacco industry is economically significant, it is only the living that can enjoy the wealth.

The case for production Oloye Gbade Isola, national secretary of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes, said British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) is a major business concern in Ibadan. He said the company might find it difficult to operate under a regulatory legislation that is choking.

"The company will eventually wind up," he said. "To those who have benefited from BATN's presence, its exit will be a calamity." Saka Muniru, representing the Ibadan Progressive Union, also told the Senate that the closure of the BATN factory located in Ibadan would lead to the loss of more than 500,000 jobs. In his view, the bill will drive away investors. He therefore pleaded that the new bill should only include measures to regulate the production of cigarettes in the country rather than strangle existing companies.

Tony Okwoju,Area Head Regional Affairs at BATN, the largest cigarette producing companyin Nigeria, promised that his company will comply with the provisions of the bill whenever it is signed into law.

However, he said there are components of the proposed bill that are extreme and would have 'unintended consequences' on the industry or even make it impossible for legal companies to operate yet will not achieve the desired goal of reducing the impact of tobacco on public health.

"We have seen cases where extreme regulation has resulted in an increase in the levels of illicit trade," Mr. Okwoju said. "We believe that the purpose of a tobacco control law should be the reduction of the impact of tobacco on public health. It should not be to force legal tax-paying tobacco companies out of business."

The case against Environmental and health activists argue that the hazards of smoking far outweigh the benefits, as few Nigerians are directly or indirectly on the payroll of tobacco companies.

They insist that tobacco farmers in Nigeria could easily shift to other crops, such as cassava, which has high demand in the international market.

"Besides, Nigeria still imports tobacco leaves at a mere 5% duty, which makes locally produced tobacco unattractive," Uche Onyeagocha of Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (FoEN) said.

The bill, amongst other provisions, seeks to regulate the involvement of tobacco companies in corporate social responsibility (CSR), a tool many tobacco companies use as part of the arguments to justify their presence in any community.

"It is simply a decoy to replace the dead smokers and keep the government's eye away from regulating its expansion," Adeola Akinremi, African coordinator of Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), an intergovernmental policy organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, said. "What social responsibility can a company whose product kills offer?" The bill also seeks to establish a National Tobacco Committee (NATOC) to monitor the implementation of the restrictions in the bill. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) presently has the responsibility of regulating tobacco sale and distribution.

The devil is in the bill When the bill is eventually passed, tobacco companies will be required to go beyond the written warning on cigarette packs, to using pictures of people harmed by smoking, and this which will occupy at least one-third of the cover to warn consumers.

It will also be against the law to sell tobacco products within one kilometre of churches, mosques, schools and hospitals when the bill is passed.

This provision particularly angered a group called Concerned Tobacco Retailers. "This means we cannot sell at all in this country!" Luka Vindi, secretary to the organization, said.

Other provisions in the bill include: prohibition of smoking in public places, ban on the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18, and prohibition of the sale of tobacco in single sticks. When passed, cigarettes will be sold only in a pack of 20.

Also, the bill prohibits mail delivery of cigarettes to consumers, and provides that all tobacco meant to be consumed in Nigeria must bear a mark indicating that it is for the Nigerian market only; while those meant for export should be clearly marked too. This, they say, will help curb smuggling of tobacco products.

Although it will be a tough decision for the senators to choose between the economy and the health implications of tobacco, the senate president has promised to make every senator declare his/her stance publicly when the bill is up for passage.

Legislative drama Part of the drama at the emotive public hearing was the altercation between the chairman of the senate committee on health, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, and Maryam Uwais, wife of the former chief justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Uwais.

Mrs Uwais was angry that Mrs Obasanjo-Bello refused to allow some children present on the floor to speak. She later sent a letter to the senate to complain aboutthis.

In an interview with NEXT, Mrs Uwais said:"What happened was that there was a hearing on the tobacco and I have been involved in a related litigation. We've been suing tobacco companies and trying to get them to stop selling to children, and around sport centres and schools.

"We have also been supporting Senator Mamora who had produced a bill for tobacco control which is more effective than the other law that has been in existence.

We went for the public hearing and I was able to speak on the first day. I spoke about my role as a child rights advocate and how tobacco affects children.

"I was allowed to speak. But the following day, other members of ourteam were going to speak, so I went. I noticed in the audience, the three children. I don't know them and I have never seen them before.

They attempted to speak but the chairperson said no. I stood up and she said 'sit down, I am not going to allow you to address me on this issue, as a mother I am to protect these children. They are being brought here to be paraded.' Meanwhile a lot of people had come to testify that children are stakeholders. All I wanted to do was make her realise that she was wrong."

SOURCE

‘Tobacco Kills 280,000 Nigerians Yearly’

-James Sowole


A Non-governmental Organi-sation (NGO), Campaign for Free Youths Nigeria (CTFY), yesterday, raised alarm that tobacco smoking related diseases accounted for the leading cause of preventable deaths in Nigeria, killing 280,000 annually, with 800 dying daily. The figure, it said, was expected to rise to 500,000 annually if the current trend continued unchecked.

The NGO gave the figure at a workshop it organised for stakeholders in Akure, Ondo State in collaboration with the Environment Right Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA) on the WHO-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty implementation and the ongoing National Tobacco Control Bill before the National Assembly.

According to the organisation, tobacco companies' assault on the African continent has led to rising smoking rates, particularly among youths and women, thereby increasing tobacco- related diseases. Delivering a paper, the Programme Manager of ERA, Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi, said tobacco companies in the past three decades have intensified their market expansion strategies in several African countries and make the continent their prime target due to stricter regulations in Europe and North America. Oluwafemi, who was represented by the Africa Regional Coordinator of Framework Convention Alliance, Mr Adeola Akinremi, lamented that despite enormous facilities to treat heart-related diseases in advanced countries, there are no much cigarette factories. He said it was an irony that despite lack of infrastructural facilities, there are various tobacco manufacturing companies in Nigeria with various deceitful means to sustain their operations. He therefore called on the Ondo State Government to initiate a bill against tobacco smoking which should be fashioned after the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 before the National Assembly.

SOURCE

TOBACCO CONTROL BILL : Making a choice between economy and citizens health

-IKENNA OBI

As the Tobacco control bill provokes debate between two major parties of stakeholders, it is apparent that the choice is between guaranteeing banal economic returns and closing the eyes to the negative toll of tobacco consumption on public health.
In its attempt to rationalize the legislation of a Tobacco Control Act which seeks among other things to prohibit tobacco products advertising and promotion or the sponsorship of any project or programme bordering on entertainment or tourism by tobacco manufacturers, the Senate has in a recent public hearing granted audience to stakeholders. It would be recalled that the bill for tobacco control sponsored by Senator Olorunimbe Mamora had since February this year been a subject of legislative debate in the upper house. A debate that has created a divide between those who see in tobacco manufacturing a blessing as jobs are created and those who see nothing but disease and death which flows from tobacco manufacturing and sale in the country.
Coming at the heels of the imposition of strict legislative control against tobacco manufacturing in Europe and the United States of America, the on going attempt to ban the sale of tobacco products to persons below 18 and the prohibition of advertisement in promotions by tobacco companies in Nigeria through the Tobacco Control Act creates a gloomy future for an industry. It is on record that the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) a major tobacco products manufacturer in the country pays up to 80 billion Naira as tax to government coffers. In addition, BATN has executed and still executes many corporate social responsibility projects across the country. It is estimated that the closure of BATN activities in the country would lead to the loss of more than 500,000 jobs, thus affecting the well being of millions of dependants.
However, the coalition of forces that insist on the stringent control of tobacco manufacturing, sale and promotion in the country have reeled out statistics proving that tobacco brings nothing but disease and death and avoidable health expenditure. A recent survey conducted in hospitals in Lagos state revealed that up to 2 person die every day as a result of tobacco related diseases. This gives an idea of the colossal human cost of tobacco in a country where accurate statistics are not available. The stunning 400,000 deaths recorded in the United States of America as result of tobacco products consumption gives an impression of the negative impact of tobacco consumption on human health.
In kick starting the debate on the Tobacco Control bill Senator Mamora commented on the fact that the increasing hostility of the economic environment in Europe and America has driven tobacco manufacturers like BATN to the developing countries where they exploit the ignorance of the people and the laxity of government to continue the production and sale of products that are harmful to peoples health.
The plan to establish a BATN factory in the country was made known on September 24 2001 with the intention then to expend up to $150 million dollars in constructing a modern cigarette factory in Ibadan . Then, two years into the first tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo and at a time when the country was direly in need of foreign investment, BATN was perceived more as a partner in economic progress. However the entry of BATN in the country at the time met with pockets of opposition. Such opposition mounted by civil society was overwhelmed by an overwhelming wave of euphoria that gripped government bureaucrats over foreign investment. It would be recalled that the then Minister of Industry, Kola Jamodu noted that the coming of BATN is a "considerable investment" which "demonstrates that the new Nigeria is on track… We are on course to meet the ambitious investment targets…
Today, 8 years after its decision to fully enter the Nigeria market as a manufacturer of tobacco products, BATN is under pressure both from concerned civil society organizations and legislators to organize its activities in the country in a way that would no endanger the health of ignorant people.
Commenting during the public hearing in the Senate, BATN Regional Affairs manager, Tony Okwoju captured the major fear of the tobacco manufacturing sector by noting that the purpose of tobacco control should be restricted to reducing the effect of tobacco consumption on public health not to force tobacco companies out of business.
Considering the estimate that up to 6.5 million Nigerians are already prone to tobacco related deaths, the Senate according to the Senate President is faced with a legislative challenge bordering on allowing a liberal regime for tobacco consumption and thus put more lives on the death row or enact the Tobacco Control Act into a law and stand the risk of endangering the fortunes of tobacco manufacturing in the country with attendant revenue loss to government- in this era of serious drive for revenues and the loss of jobs thus swelling the unemployment rate in the country.
Will there be a compromise- a middle ground that would create a win-win scenario or would the boom days of cigarette manufacturing, promotions, sponsorships and consumption be over ? But the fears remain that the stifling of tobacco manufacturing in the country may create a boom for the smuggling of tobacco products into the country through the nation's porous borders through the illicit connivance of unscrupulous customs officials.

SOURCE

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Tobacco Bill Provoked Controversy in Senate

Wife of former Chief Justice of Nigeria and member of the African Union Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Mrs. Maryam Uwais and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello are engaged in a healthy, even if needless, argument on the propriety or otherwise of disallowing children to participate in the recently-held public hearing on the Tobacco Control Bill in the Senate. Sufuyan Ojeifo examines the tenor of the controversy.

The purpose of the public hearing on the Tobacco Control Bill held on July 20 and 21, this year, in the Senate Hearing Room One, was to get stakeholders’ input into the Bill, preparatory to the Third Reading (clause-by-clause consideration and passage). From the various submissions at the hearing, it was evident that the anti-Tobacco Control Bill groups were in the minority. The majority groups understandably succeeded in swaying public sentiments in favour of the Bill, which was sponsored by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora.

The pro-Tobacco Control Bill groups already had their task well-cut out for them by the sponsor of the Bill and the entire membership of the Senate Committee on Health, all of whom were on the same page in their mission to achieve control, sale and consumption of the product. Specifically, the proposed legislation is entitled: “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Tobacco (Control) Act 1990 Cap T16 Laws of the Federation and to Enact the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 to provide for the Regulation or Control of Production, Manufacture, Sale, Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship of Tobacco or Tobacco Products in Nigerian and for other Relates Matters.”

Expectedly, the issue was controversial. Apart from the British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), which attempted a diplomatic opposition, there was groundswell of support for the Bill. It agreed that tobacco had impact on public health, but supported appropriate regulation the industry as it would help to reduce the impact.

But the controversy that has unexpectedly bludgeoned its way into the public domain on account of the public hearing, organised by the Senate Committee on Health under the Chair of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, centres on the propriety or otherwise of disallowing some school children to air their views on the occasion.

Wife of former Chief Justice of Nigeria and member of the African Union Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Mrs. Maryam Uwais and Obasanjo-Bello are engaged in disputation over the decision by the latter to shut out the children from making a presentation at the hearing.

Uwais was miffed that the rights of the school children were abridged. She is, no doubt, an advocate of the protection of the child rights. On her part, Obasanjo-Bello insisted that the children come before their rights and from her position, she is an advocate of the protection of the child. Specifically, Uwais had in a letter to Obasanjo-Bello, copies of which were sent to the Senate President, Senator David Mark and Senator Mamora (sponsor of the Bill) said that in denying the children the opportunity to speak, Obasanjo-Bello had said that she was a mother and so felt the need to protect children.

According to Uwais: “You aid that you would not allow children to be ‘used’ or ‘paraded’ before the Committee and that even in law courts, the evidence of a child would need to be corroborated during a trial. Besides, in your view, since adults were present and knew what the issues were, there was absolutely no need for a person under the age of 18 to participate in the proceedings.

“To further support your own assertions, you added that at hearings in the Senate, persons who intended to contribute could be compelled to swear oaths on the scriptures appropriate to their faiths, which in fact, in your understanding, was another excuse for denying them the right to be heard on an issue that concerns them, also. In conclusion, you mentioned that the Child Rights Act did not allow for children to speak at such fora.”

After citing the various sections of the Constitution, the Child Rights Act 2003 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ratified by Nigeria since July 23, 2001), she knocked off the position of Obasanjo-Bello. She said that that public hearing was not a court of law as the Senator would want people to believe. She said “while not delving into the justifications and reasons for the policy, laws and formalities that apply in family court proceedings or in trials where children testify as witnesses and the need for corroboration and/or not swearing on oath or not, the point must be made that rules of evidence that are strictly observed in a court of law do not apply to public hearings.

“Indeed, even in judicial proceedings concerning a child, the court is compelled to make available the opportunity for the views of the child to be heard directly or through an impartial representatives, depending on the circumstances; the fact remains that his or her views must be heard and the court is obliged to ensure that, in its own discretion, predicated upon the best interests of the child…”

The first reaction to Uwais came from Lawyer-Aides in the National Assembly (LANASS), under the leadership of Mr. Akande Oluwatosin, which faulted the position Uwais, to the effect that Obasanjo-Bello violated the rights of the school children by not allowing them to present their position at the just concluded public hearing on the Tobacco Control Bill. The body, in a statement issued in Abuja, said that while Obasanjo-Bello based her decision on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, Uwais had anchored her protest on the provisions of Section 3 of the Child Rights Act.The Section reads: “The provisions in Chapter 1V of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999, or any successive constitutional provisions relating to fundamental rights, shall apply as if those provisions are expressly stated in this Act.”

LANASS said, “From the above provision, it is clear for all purposes and intent that the drafters of the Child Rights Act made it subject to the constitution and besides, it is elementary that the basic law above all laws in every nation is its constitution.”

The group further poked a hole in Uwais’ argument that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the Right of Freedom of Expression of every Nigerian, including the secondary school students covered them. According to the body, “True, not limited by age but this Section and others-37, 38, 40 and 41, in Chapter 4 are limited by the Derogation Clause as provided in Section 45 (1) of the same Constitution, which states: ‘Nothing in Sections 36, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality and public health; or (b) for the purposes of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.’”

The body said, “Sequel to that is the provision of Section 45 (1) (b) that such limitations on the above-named sections can be for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons, which, predictably and for the test of reasonableness, is one of the reasons adduced by the Senator (Obasanjo-Bello) for her action that the young persons (school children) be refrained from public discussions on smoking for protectionist reasons.”

LANASS said that it could agree more because “these young people are not even supposed to be found in places where such topics are being discussed, ab-initio.” It observed that Uwais in her position cited Section 19 of the Child Rights Act with the footnote-“Responsibilities of a Child and Parent” but that she omitted to mention Section 20 with the footnote-“Parent, etc., to provide guidance with respect to Child’s Responsibilities.”

Accusing Uwais of insincerity for citing only Section 19 without taking it together with Section 20, LANASS argued that it is only when “both sections are read together as a whole that sufficient legal analysis of that part of the Act might have been done.” The body also tackled Uwais for berating Obasanjo-Bello for purportedly misconstruing the Senate Committee Public hearing as a court. According to the body, “: But unknown to most Nigerians, the senator was right and Mrs. Uwais, ironically, was the erring party. Court, as defined by Section 2 of the Evidence Act, is not restricted to a structure or building where judgments are pronounced but includes judges, magistrates and all persons empowered to take evidence except arbitrators.

“Since National Assembly Committees are empowered, by law, to take evidence, they could constitute what is a court, following the provisions of the Evidence Act. Therefore, the Senator (Obasanjo-Bello) was accurate in her analogy; even if it appears she had no knowledge of the legal truth of her statements.”

But in her reply to Uwais dated July 29, 2009, Obasanjo-Bello said, “…On the second day, Mrs. Uwais was again present. After the first few speakers, I asked what other groups were present and the presence of some children in school uniform was indicated. I had seen the children and assumed they were observers to the proceeding which is allowed and even educative.

“I said and insisted children are not allowed to give uncorroborated evidence in court and that the school children being minors would not be allowed to talk on an issue that could easily be resolved by adults. Please note that apart from being minors, the children submitted no memorandum as individuals or as a group and did not represent any group. The public hearing was specifically on the Tobacco Bill; all other issues were irrelevant unless it directly affected our understanding of the Tobacco issue in Nigeria.”

“According to the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopaedia, 2008, the age of consent is the age which according to the law, persons are bound by their words and acts. Below the minor age, unless there are extenuating circumstances, children are not allowed to give evidence in court. On a comparative level, legislative investigations in a Presidential system are fashioned after law courts and Senate Committees here and in the US are allowed to subpoena persons and do have legal backing as courts.

“Committee findings can lead to various reprimands and sanctions and can be followed by arrest. It is a criminal offence to lie before a legislative committee. We are allowed to ask people to take oath if deemed necessary. Senate Committees are allowed to make their own rules as long as it follows the rules of the Senate. Deciding who will speak in the Senate chambers is the prerogative of the Senate President and in a committee room; it is the prerogative of the Chairman of the committee,” she said. She added, “Order 64 of the standing rules of the Senate 2003, says ‘the President in the Senate and Chairman in any Committee shall be responsible for the observance of the rules of the Order in the Senate and Committee respectively and their decision upon any point of order shall not be open to appeal and shall not be reviewed by the Senate except upon a substantive motion after notice.’

“Age of consent is important to protect children from exploitation. It is generally agreed that children can be easily manipulated and their opinions tutored and I don’t believe this is my idea as it is normal in all jurisdictions across the world not to unnecessarily expose children to adult issues such as violence and sexual content. I don’t think I am saying anything that is not universally accepted to say children can be easily influenced.

“To obtain testimony from a minor, the parent or guardian has to be present or there must be verifiable written consent from them. Taking a child out of school on a school day on an issue where there was no disagreement like protecting children from tobacco is insensitive on the part of the people that did it and it’s against the welfare of the children. Middle class people usually do not do this to their children but it’s the children of poorer people that are pulled from school and brought to a hearing room on an issue they do not need to participate in.

“Will these same people allow their own children to be taken out of school for such matter? I am a mother and I will not let any school allow my child to be taken for such an event. The best child right is not about exposing children to undue interference but in letting them grow up to have their own opinions and make their minds up about ideas on their own. That is the essence of the right to Freedom of Expression in the 1999 Constitution alluded to by Mrs. Uwais.

“It is actually child exploitation to subject children to give testimony to prove one’s point especially when the protection of the children from smoking was not a part of the bill that was being disputed. If the children lost confidence from not being allowed to talk in the senate, it was the fault of the people that brought them without clearing or following laid down rules by the committee.

“In order to forestall rancorous and unnecessary disputations during committee hearings, it is the norm to always ask for prior submission of memo before the hearing date so that stakeholders can be listed and if need be appropriately advised. This was not the case with these school children in uniforms during school hours without a tinge of evidence of their parents/guardians consent.”

Obasanjo-Bello continued: “After I made my decision not to allow the children to speak, Mrs. Uwais wrote a note to Senator Mamora who was sitting to my right and he showed me the note and whispered to my ears that I should let the children speak based on the note, I reiterated my point to the audience and moved on. Several minutes later, Mrs. Uwais again sent a note to Senator Ekaette, sitting on my left, showed me another note from Mrs. Uwais but advised that I should go on with the hearing as she was leaving for another committee commitment. I again made my point about not allowing children to speak. Must one listen to Mrs. Uwais’ advocacy for child’s rights in a matter involving Tobacco?”

Consider her summation of the Uwais opposition: “Apparently, I am being blackmailed since last week in national newspapers because I didn’t allow Mrs. Uwais to have her way. My authority as chair of the Committee means nothing to Mrs. Uwais if she is not allowed to have her way or I let the children talk. The hearing was not about children’s right but Tobacco; why should we divert the proceedings to child rights so she would have her way.”

Her conclusion: “Finally, under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, a child is anyone under the age of 18 and these children need to be protected from exploitation. It is in line with the rules of the Senate as well as under common law not to allow children give uncorroborated evidence. There was no compelling reason to allow the children to give evidence since the issue of tobacco negatively affecting children and health generally was not controverted by anyone at the hearing….

“In consonance with the rules of the Senate, it is my prerogative to allow anyone to talk as the Senate President also has the prerogative to allow any senator or anyone else to talk as he deems fit. By all standards, local and international, public hearings are no place for children. Almost all national issues, directly or indirectly, affect children and that does not mean that we must parade children to give their opinions on all issues.

“Everything from economy to violence in our society affects children but we don’t necessarily parade them before the Senate when such are being discussed. I lived in the US when some of the tobacco hearings were being conducted in the US senate and I never saw children give evidence. I don’t know why in Nigeria with the prominent breaches of the child’s rights, the so called activists for children’s rights cannot do anything to make us feel their impact.

“In all this, I see lack of knowledge of legislative process, rules and procedure. The tobacco bill had a good public hearing and there is no need to create an issue where none exists: not even from a seeming outsider…who weeps louder than the bereaved. I plead with Mrs. Uwais to leave this matter alone and move on to many of the breaches of the Child’s Right Act that occur every day and lead to serious physical and emotional damage to children.” Will this controversy abate or it will continue to dominate the public space over and above the real issue of controlling Tobacco production, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion, et al?