- Many participants at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH), which ended in Singapore at the weekend, are worried that several months after the National Tobacco Control Bill was passed, President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to sign it into law, reports OLUKOREDE YISHAU
Two days ago, the global community ended a conference where it was agreed that health should take precedence over financial gains from the tobacco industry. The World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH), which ended in Singapore at the weekend, showed that the tobacco epidemic must be curtailed before it increases the number of people it kills above its current benchmark of 6 million annually.
Two reports released at the conference, the Fourth Edition of the Tobacco Atlas and the Tobacco Watch, paint the gory picture of the state of things. The reports show that Nigeria is at risk, if the National Tobacco Control Bill is not passed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Tobacco Atlas puts the cost of tobacco smoking to the Nigerian economy in terms of losses to treatment and low productivity at $591m annually. It said 17 billion cigarettes are produced in the country annually and showed that more people are getting into tobacco use.
Many participants at the conference kept asking the Nigerian contingent while the Bill passed by the National Assembly remains unsigned. They are of the view that with no law regulating the industry, initiatives to fight the epidemic in the Third World, such as the $200 million worth initiative announced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will achieve little result.
President of the Washington DC-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) Matt Myers urged Jonathan to sign the Bill. Myers said: “If I meet President Goodluck Jonathan, I will tell him that one thing he needs to do quickly that will save the lives of many Nigerians is to sign the Tobacco Control Bill and guarantee that the country will implement it right away. If the Tobacco Bill is signed and implemented, it will save literally over the course of time millions of Nigerians from death. Most importantly, it will protect Nigerian young people from lifetime tobacco addiction and premature deaths.”
Environmental Rights Action’s (ERA) Director, Corporate Accountability, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, said the Bill is a domestication of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first global health treaty developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Nigeria has ratified.
Oluwafemi said: “The FCTC is one of the most successful international conventions. It includes other specific steps for governments addressing tobacco use, including to: adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption; create smoke-free work and public spaces; put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages; and combat illicit trade in tobacco products.
“The big tobacco are doing their best to ensure regulations are not enforced in line with the FCTC by using tactics hidden under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to hoodwink people in government into toeing their way at the risk of the people’s health. These tactics include: partnership agreements between government and industry; industry-run programmes claiming to prevent youth smoking; and training for farmers.”
Communications Manager, Africa Tobacco Control Regional Initiative (ATCRI), Mr. Adeola Akinremi, urged Jonathan to sign the Bill into law.
Speaking at the WCTOH, Akinremi said: “President Jonathan should assent the bill, which is capable of saving lives of many Nigerians in the long run.”
Akinremi noted that the signing of the bill will help the cause for which the New York mayor has been committing his personal funds.
For Akinsola Owoeye of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, there are several reasons why the Bill must be signed. Owoeye said: “Despite the promises made by the government and tobacco industry, death toll began to rise in Nigeria after BAT came in. A survey in Lagos State showed an increase in smoking prevalence from 8.9 per cent to 10 per cent, and prevalence of heavy smoking which rose to 16.3 per cent. It also shows that two persons die in the state daily from tobacco related diseases. Using the conservative estimates of Lagos State, it means each state in Nigeria has spent at least N2,847,000,000 ($ 18,058,992) to treat smokers in hospitals. Multiply that amount by the 37 states in Nigeria, it also means that Nigeria lost N105,339,000,000 ($668,182,708) in one year. If this figure is justifiable, it clearly make nonsense of the 10 billion naira ($6,343,165) per year, tax paid by BATN.”