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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Intrigues stall passage of tobacco control bill

INTRIGUES among key officials of the Federal Ministries of Health, Trade and Investment, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and a tobacco-producing firm have been fingered in the non-passage of National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB), a year after the National Assembly passed it.
The Guardian learnt that President Goodluck Jonathan, whose assent is required for the bill to become law, is yet to receive the document.
And ahead of the 2012 World No Tobacco Day holding this week, some activists have doubted government’s commitment to Nigerians’ right to a healthy environment. They claimed that Nigeria lags behind in the implementation of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
It was learnt that the bill had become a plaything between the ministries of Health and Trade and Investment.
In fact, the Federal Ministry of Health, which is named the chief implementation agency of the bill, is alleged to have failed in sending the bill to the President for assent.
There were also speculations that a tobacco manufacturing firm was arm-twisting some officials of SON and the Ministry of Trade and Investment to prevent the bill from being passed in its current form.
“The tobacco industry is in disagreement with two sections of the bill, which the operators want expunged. One of the sections is the non-inclusion of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in the membership of the National Tobacco Control Committee as provided in the bill.
“The SON is also in disagreement with some of the oversight functions it was allotted in the bill. SON wants to be the chief implementation agency for the bill,” a source said.
While waiting for clarity on the status of the bill, activists under the aegis of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), have urged the minister of health to initiate the processes towards the enforcement of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs sold in Nigeria.
The group noted that Nigeria was behind in the implementation of tobacco control measures, one of which is the enforcement of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs as obtained in five of the world’s eight largest countries.
Director, Corporate Accountability Campaigns of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “Pictorial warnings have been proven as one of the most effective tools to tackling the glamourisation of tobacco products; effectively communicate the health impacts of smoking and help to reduce consumption and its associated hazards.
“We believe strongly that the health minister should commence all processes that would lead to the enforcement of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. The first step is for the minister to work for the presidential assent of the National Tobacco Control Bill,” he said.