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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Tobacco Control Bill

RECENTLY, the Senate passed, to replace the Tobacco Smoking Control Act (1990), the Tobacco Control Bill that has been inching its way through the legislative process for more than two years.  This  legislation provides for, among other  things, a ban  on  tobacco advertising, sponsorship  and promotion,  forbids the sale of cigarette to persons  below age 18, bans  smoking in public places, and regulates the  manufacture, distribution  and marketing of  tobacco products in  Nigeria.

The passage of this bill is  certainly a vote in favour of  public health  for it is common knowledge today that  tobacco  consumption,  be it  by smoking, chewing, or snuffing, is  injurious one way or other, to the health of the  direct consumer, and, in the particular case of smoking, the health of  other persons nearby (that is second-hand  consumers). Besides,  the enactment of  a Tobacco Control law is, not only consistent with the modern trend of health consciousness  across the globe, it is also in line with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty developed  to arrest the  growing use of tobacco and its attendant threat to public health around the world. It has been in force since early 2005 and it must be noted, Nigeria is a signatory to it.

The case for a strong legislation against tobacco use is indeed compelling not the least because it is harmful to health. It has been conclusively proven that tobacco use has direct causative relation to respiratory and heart diseases, and emphysema, a type of lung disease in the case of smoking, mouth and gum diseases in the case of chewing, and nose and related diseases in the case of snuffing. The addictive nature of tobacco use also fosters substance dependence.  Some records state that nearly five million people die every year of tobacco-linked diseases. Indirectly, second hand smoking endangers the health of non-smokers who must suffer the offensive effect of cigarette smoke in the environment and violates their fundamental right.

Time there was when smoking was fashionable and considered a ‘class thing’ such that to use tobacco whichever way was considered a sign of maturity. Indeed, a smoking aficionado would dedicate special ‘smoking rooms’ equipped with diverse paraphernalia – water pipes, lighters,  spittoons, ash trays, even smoking jackets,  smoking hats and slippers –  all designed to heighten the pleasure of the pastime.

Nevertheless, over the centuries, the negative effects of this ‘pastime’ have also for long been acknowledged, condemned, and legislated against by both spiritual and secular authorities.  In 1590, Pope Urban VII issued a papal bull against the use of tobacco “in the porch-way of, or inside the church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose”.  King James I of England, in 1604, wrote in ‘A Counterblast to Tobacco’ a stinging – and perceptive – criticism of the habit of tobacco use describing it as “a custome loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”.

Elsewhere, in the Ottoman empire,  Sultan Murad IV who ruled  1623- 1640  decreed smoking as a capital offence while in old Russia,  anyone caught smoking had his nose cut off. Obviously then anti-tobacco use sentiment is not a recent development. Unfortunately, in modern times, the tobacco industry has amassed a hefty war chest with which, for long and until recently, it lobbied  the powers that be in favour of its business.  But, under pressure in the increasingly health-conscious developed countries, it has shifted business and lobby to developing countries such as Nigeria.

Since 1999, the industry has enlarged its presence and operations in our country, complete with an effective marketing strategy and well-oiled public relations machinery that working hand in glove with government, plays up the benefits of job creation and economic contributions to the nation as worthwhile values added to Nigeria and its people.  But these justifications are of lesser value compared to the immense short and long-term costs to human and environmental health. It is gratifying that the Tobacco Control Bill is in its final stage despite the odds. However, how does government square the circle of allowing the tobacco industry to continue in business in the face of the coming law?

We would think that a nation of healthy citizens is of greater value to Nigeria than capital. We urge government to stand firm for the public good by enforcing the spirit and letter of this  pro-health legislation. We also suggest a steep ‘sin tax’ on tobacco  to make the habit increasingly too expensive to sustain. Such  revenue in turn should be spent to  run medical facilities  that treat  tobacco-generated  diseases.

More effort should also be devoted to public enlightenment campaigns on the risks of tobacco use.