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Monday, March 8, 2010

Speed up tobacco bill, group tells assembly

The lack lustre approach of the National Assembly to the speedy passage into law of the National Tobacco Control Bill may cause the nation more tobacco related deaths, according to the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation.

The organisation made this call on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which had been ratified by over 168 countries including Nigeria since 2005.

Increased tobacco-related deaths

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco related deaths stand at 5.4 million people annually and by projections will increase beyond eight million over the next two decades, with the majority of lives lost in the developing countries.

The WHO insists that strong worldwide enforcement and implementation of the FCTC could save 200 million lives by the year 2050. Nigeria signed the FCTC in 2004 and ratified in 2005 but has been recording more deaths relating to tobacco, especially cancer.

"The fifth year of FCTC entering into force calls for sober reflection for us as a nation because in the last five years little progress has been made in domesticating the FCTC," said Akinbode Oluwafemi, ERA/FoEN's programme manager. "This has not been without a grave impact on the citizenry because within this period we have lost talented musicians, journalists and even doctors, no thanks to nearly no regulation of an industry that markets a lethal product in beautiful wraps."

Foot-dragging on the bill

Mr. Oluwafemi said that Nigerians are not happy with the slow response of government to public health protection, especially the way the tobacco control bill was neglected after the public hearing in July last year.

"We are further dismayed that there is an alleged clandestine move by tobacco lobbyists to compromise our law makers with the intent of thwarting the passage of the national tobacco control bill," said Mr. Oluwafemi. "How else can you explain our law makers' foot-dragging on the bill nearly one year after the public hearing? This action is anti-people and seriously compromises our democracy. Our lawmakers should stand by the people who have spoken in unison at the public hearing and abide by the principles of the FCTC which has reduced tobacco-related deaths in countries that have implemented the provisions."

At the fifth anniversary of the entry of the WHO FCTC, the convention secretariat organised a special event on 26 February 2010 at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva.

Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, said that recent studies estimate that full implementation of just four cost-effective measures set out in the FCTC could prevent 5.5 million deaths within a decade.

Fighting the lobbyists

Similar sentiments were echoed by tobacco control groups across the world. The Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a network of tobacco control groups from across the globe, said that countries that have implemented the FCTC provisions like a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorships have gone a long way in reducing deaths.

"Tobacco use remains high in low and middle income countries and is increasing among women and young people... We have had five years of good progress on policy but deaths due to tobacco use continue to rise. Governments need to fund their policy promises to stem the tide of tobacco deaths," said Laurent Huber, the FCA Director.

Another group, Corporate Accountability International, warned about the tobacco industry's track-record of trying to water down on the implementation of the FCTC.

According to the organisation's director, Gigi Kellett, "In July 2009, during an international protocol negotiating session, parties identified and kicked tobacco lobbyists out of the process - a move made possible by Article 5.3., a provision of the FCTC which protects the treaty from tobacco industry interference in any guise. By that action, parties safeguarded the negotiations against the tobacco industry's fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest, sending a strong message to the industry."

The FCTC entered into force in 2005. Parties are expected to domesticate the treaty by implementing national tobacco control coordinating mechanisms, prohibiting the sals of tobacco products to minors, and taking measures to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.