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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Enough is enough on smoking parties'

Akinbobe Olufemi of environmental rights action
What is the status of the tobacco bill in the National Assembly?

I think the Senate Committee on Health, probably will have the most updated piece of news about the status of this bill. Because for us as a pressure group and citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we have done what is expected of us in terms of giving the necessary technical back up, helping to mobilise support, helping to explain to the Nigerian people what this bill is all about. And as can be confirmed by both the media and surveys carried out in Nigeria, this is one bill that is enjoying overwhelming support because it is a public health bill.
This is a bill that is also enjoying overwhelming support in the Senate. But we are surprised that since the public hearing in July 21, 2009, the Senate committee is yet to turn back this bill for passage at the plenary of the Senate. Don't forget that at the second reading of the bill, the Senate president actually gave that committee two weeks to work on the bill. Now, two years after, we are yet to see this bill which everybody agrees is of utmost importance, that this bill will help in reducing the number of deaths, ill health, and cost on our economy that is associated with smoking.
So in terms of what we know, we know that this bill has passed second reading, that over 40 NGOs including five international NGOs made presentations in support of this bill. We also know that the tobacco industry was adequately represented at the public hearing and they were asked, ‘do you actually have any problem with this bill'? And I remember, it is on tape, that the representative of the tobacco industry said no but that they were only questioning a few sections in this bill. So why the Senate Health Committee has not been able to deliver this bill to the Nigerian people is actually a question only that committee can answer.
What about the argument that passage of the bill result in job cuts?
BAT (British American Tobacco) has been using people to confuse both the media and the Senate, about the likely impact of this bill, and one of them is that is Senator Adedibu who said that over 200,000 Nigerians would lose their jobs. He later moved it up to 300,000. And at the public hearing, he was well seated when BAT was asked what their staff strength in Nigeria was and they replied that they have less than 1,000 in direct employment.
They were also asked to give the figure of their wholesalers; people who live directly on the tobacco business in Nigeria and the tobacco companies' representatives said about 3,000. We are talking about the wholesalers, retailers, distributors, etc. But you and I know that we cannot add that mallam that is selling 1,000 products of which cigarette is one of them, as somebody that will lose his job if he is asked not to sell cigarettes.
So what they are doing is to add the numerous people they know that somehow, because of the nature of their petty trade, sell cigarettes as people that are in direct BAT employment. That is one of the lies that is being peddled against this bill.
Any plan for a Smoke Free Lagos?
We have started that discussion because everybody is looking up to Lagos. The two states we are working on now actually approached us. We had approached Lagos State before and somehow it didn't work. I think that Lagos State is best placed now to begin a smoke-free policy, because they have actually confirmed that the state is spending so much money in treating victims of tobacco addiction. We are ready to work with them anytime any day. We initiated discussion long ago with them; we'd actually done some draft work with them and we are ready to continue on that.
What about the issue of smoking parties?
BAT has shown the Nigerian government that it is not ready to do business according to the rules of our land. BAT will go to the Senate and say something and go underground and do something else.
This issue of smoking parties actually came up in the public hearing and they were denying to high heavens. Now, we can see this is a company that is not to be trusted. We exposed the smoking parties in 2008 and they even issued a statement up to their corporate office in London, to say that they don't do something like that. Yet they've gone ahead to organise other secret parties.
Our expose is just to let the Nigerian government know that these people are still going about recruiting our youth into smoking through very mean measures, including organising parties where you have half-naked girls lighting up cigarettes for people. And if not that we got the photos, probably they would have come up to deny again that something like that was held.
What we are just saying now, particularly on the smoking parties is that enough is enough. Whether the bill is passed or not, we as citizens of this country, we have the right to protest; to embark on civil action to stop activities that we know are inimical to the health of our youth. So when next they are coming to Lagos for their next smoking party, they will be ready to see us there. We have enough intelligence to gather where they will be going. Next time we will stop it. It is either they stop it or we stop it for them.