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Friday, March 9, 2012

Environmental activists task Jonathan, lawmakers on anti-tobacco law

ENVIRONMENTAL activists on Tuesday expressed concern over the alleged refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to assent “people friendly” bills into law.
The activists under the aegis of Environmental Rights Action/ Friend of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) observed that only the 2012 budget and Freedom of Information (FoI) bill had so far been assented into law by President Jonathan, out of several that were passed at the end of the sixth Senate.
Most worrisome according to the group is the delay of the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB), which is to domesticate the provisions of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and reduce tobacco epidemic in Nigeria.
Director of Corporate Accountability of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi said at the presentation of a “Shadow report on Nigeria’s implementation of the FCTC Articles 5.3, 6. & 13” that over 25 bills were passed at the twilight of the last Senate.
He said that contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian constitution, “President Jonathan has failed in his primary responsibility to assent people-friendly bills into law, without giving reasons for so doing.
“This, therefore, raised questions on the validity of spending billions of naira on the current National Assembly, when the bills of the last assembly will not be signed into law and none of the legislators is asking question,” he said.
Oluwafemi added that the shadow report done in Abuja, Enugu and Lagos has shown that provisions for tobacco control in the public had not been adhered to in several public places.
The goal of the shadow report is to monitor and report on Nigeria’s efforts at implementing the provisions of the FCTC articles 5.3 (industry interference), 6 (price and tax measures to reduce demand for tobacco) and 13 (tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship).
According to him, the report finds that the existing ban on outdoor or billboard advertising has been largely conformed to by the tobacco industry, as there was strict compliance with the regulations on outdoor advertising in the monitored cities.
Meanwhile, the ban on POS advertising has been largely ignored. Most of the stores and supermarkets advertise tobacco products and some even expose cigarette shelves to young people and underage persons.
“During the shadow report, ERA/FoEN was able to establish that Nigeria is still far behind in implementing tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco. Also, the average price of a pack of cigarette in Nigeria today is N300, while the average discounted price stands at N80.
“Nigerian government officials lack the required understanding on the methods used by the tobacco industry to influence government policies and legislations.
“The tobacco industry has leveraged on its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to weaken government’s resolve for effective tobacco legislation,” the report reads in part.
Oluwafemi added that it is now evident that a lot depends on the prompt signing into law of the NTCB by the president to make the overall enforcement of the principles of the FCTC possible in Nigeria.
He noted that while states like Osun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were moving ahead with the smoke-free public places ban, the issues of single sticks sale of tobacco, pictorial warning, tobacco industry interference, taxation etc, would have to wait until the national bill is signed.
Head of the anti-tobacco campaign group ERA/FoEN, Seun Akioye, therefore, called on President Jonathan and lawmakers in the country to expedite action on the anti-tobacco bill among others.
“We call on National Assembly members to fish out the bill wherever it is hidden. It is to save lives of Nigerians. This is the only bill that will, for the first time, benefit Nigerians directly, especially health-wise,” Akioye said.

Wole Oyebade