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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tobacco: Still the ruthless killer

TODAY, May 31, is “World No Tobacco Day” (WNTD). First observed in 1987 following a motion passed by a cabinet of the World Health Assembly (WHA) which received the tacit support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has become a day devoted to global campaigns and efforts to significantly reduce, and eventually eliminate the consumption of tobacco, which not only ruins the health of its users, but also exposes every other person to serious harm by polluting the air we all breathe. This is most worrisome given, for instance, a recent study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, which contains the chilling discovery that second-hand smoking (that is, passive smoking by people who are in the same environment with smokers) claims about 600,000 lives yearly. More disturbing is the revelation that a third of these unfortunate victims are hapless children who inhale these poisonous cigarette fumes from their parents or other family members who are smokers.

Today’s campaign is focusing on the very urgent need to counter the brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts by the usually rich tobacco companies to deploy their massive influence and money to undermine campaigns and efforts worldwide to not only significantly reduce the consumption of tobacco, but also eventually abolish it. The expectation is that the theme of this year’s “World No Tobacco Day” should sufficiently inspire more men and women across the world who cherish an environment uncontaminated by poisonous tobacco smoke and are pained by the killer diseases with which tobacco generously rewards its users to actively identify with all efforts in their communities today and henceforth aimed at achieving a world free from this grossly harmful product and its usage.

Now, as I allow my mind today to endure the oppressive thought that tobacco still remains the ruthless killer next door, what, if I may dare ask, can anyone safely call its producers and distributors without being accused of being unfair? To my mind, the answer can only be simple and straightforward: They are people who prosper at the expense of other people’s lives because they rake in billions of dollars from the production and distribution of products that only ruin other people’s health, and eventually terminate their lives. Indeed, how these people are able to deaden their conscience to go on prospering and sustaining their own lives with the huge profits accruing to them from the production and marketing of a scientifically confirmed poisonous product whose only known benefit is its ability to cruelly terminate the lives of fellow human beings beats me hollow? Yes, tobacco never adds even the tiniest bit of value to life; it only destroys it completely and without mercy. This is a fact nobody has even attempted to deny.

Happily, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has been screaming the warning that TOBACCO SMOKERS ARE LIABLE TO DIE YOUNG. What the Health Ministry here is saying is very simple: Anyone offering you a cigarette is only wishing you an untimely death! In fact, he is just saying to you: May you die young! And that is exactly what tobacco companies, including the government that issued them the licenses to operate are wishing those that patronise them.

Before now, tobacco companies used to put up at strategic points in our city centres very beautiful and alluring billboards, and fill several newspaper and magazine pages with very appealing, glossy adverts. Unfortunately, that option is no longer available to them in many countries, because of the widespread ban on outdoor advertising of tobacco products. I am glad that those pleasant pictures of vivacious achievers smiling home with glittering laurels just because they were hooked to particular brands of cigarette which used to adorn glossy billboards and magazine pages, and which had proved irresistible baits to several people, especially youths, have now vanished from our cities, highways and the media. As a youth, the elegant, gallant, athletic rodeo man whose image marketed the 555 brand of cigarette was my best idea of a handsome, hard-working winner. My friends and I admired him, carried his photographs about, and yearned to smoke 555 in order to grow up and become energetic and vivacious like him.

One wonders how many youths that have been terminally ruined because they went beyond mere fantasies or obsession with their cigarette advert heroes and became chain-smokers and irredeemable addicts. Managers of tobacco adverts are so adept in this grand art of monumental deception that their victims never suspect any harm until they have willingly place their heads on the slaughter slab. Only very few, perhaps, may at some point muster the will to look beyond the meretricious pictures and the pomp and glitter of cigarette promotional tricks and see the blood-curdling pictures of piece-meally ruined lungs and other sensitive organs, murky, chimney-like breath tracts and heart region, the gradually approaching merciless fangs of an all devouring cancer, tuberculosis, sundry lung and heart diseases, and various other horrible diseases which are the only rewards that tobacco generally distributes to those who embrace it.

I have heard that tobacco companies pay huge taxes to government, award scholarships to indigent students and embark upon several projects to better the lot of the common man in several communities. But how many people have their lethal product sent to their early graves? How many widows, widowers and orphans are they producing with alarming rapidity? How many cancer, TB and lung disease patients do they produce in a year? How many babies have they killed in the womb with the collaboration of pregnant smokers? How many among their hapless employees are gradually ruined daily because of the harmful fumes they inhale during production of cigarettes? It is so saddening that while in several countries of the world, tobacco companies and their owners are being isolated, hounded and choked with harsh laws, they have been allowed to invade Nigeria and other African countries with their filthy billions because we have incompetent and insensitive governments that have no qualms welcoming smiling, gentle, urbane, but ruthless producers of poisonous products as “foreign investors.”

I will never be tired of referring to an interesting development in the United States on June 7, 2001 where a Los Angeles Superior Court slapped an unprecedented $3 billion in damages on Phillip Morris, a tobacco giant company, in response to a suit by a tobacco casualty, Richard Boeken, who had developed incurable cancer of the brain and lungs after smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes every day for 40 years. This should serve as eye opener to Africans that with several class suits from victims of tobacco, these merchants of death can easily be run out of town. According to the New York Post editorial of June 9, 2001, 56-year-old Boeken, who began smoking as a teenager in 1957 claimed that, “he continued smoking because … he believed claims by tobacco companies that smoking was safe.” He told reporters in a post-trial interview: “I didn’t believe they would lie about the facts that they were putting out on television and radio.”

Now, that is exactly the issue. Tobacco companies deploy beautifully packaged lies to lure people into taking their fatally poisoned wraps called cigarettes. Their billboards do not advertise the unfortunate and pitiable cancer patients treading the cold, dark, lonely path to a most painful, slow death. The argument that smokers ought to be dissuaded from smoking by the warnings put out on cigarette packets, and that people are merely being allowed to exercise their right and freedom to make choices, is akin to endorsing suicide as a lawful expression of freedom? Why allow a killer-poison to circulate among humans in the first place? Do all humans possess equal capacity to discern and resist the allurement of this clear and present danger? No matter how we look at it, we must be willing to admit that every society has a responsibility to defend its unwary and ignorant members from the ruinous wiles of their ill-intentioned neighbours.    .

It is even widely known that many tobacco producers are non-smokers because they know too well how deadly their products are! In court and in several enquiries, tobacco producers have admitted that their product contains very harmful substances. So why should the government not protect its citizens from these products whose manufacturers have admitted contain harmful substances? That is one question that ought to engage our minds today. And as “World No Tobacco Day” is marked across the world today, we as a people should muster also the will to rise as one man to reject and resist the continued existence of this cannibal in our midst. It is a sacred duty.

• Ejinkeonye, a journalist, columnist and literary scholar writes from Lagos.

 SOURCE

FG tasked on adoption of no-smoking programmes


In a bid to reduce the ever increasing number of diseases and deaths caused by smoking, doctors under the auspices of the World Association of Family Doctors(WONCA) have charged the government at all levels to adopt preventive comprehensive health education programmes on smoking cessation and control.

The Africa Regional President, WONCA Dr Sylvester Osinowo gave this charge recently  in Lagos at commemoration of the 2012 WONCA World Family Doctor day with the theme "Healthy Living: The Role of the Family Doctor, Smoking Cessation Among Doctors and in the Community".
Osinowo said that the theme was chosen due to findings that stated that smoking placed the heaviest burden of morbidity and mortality on Nigerians compared to any other risk factor.
He added that the estimated death rate of 4.9m people in 1999 was expected to rise to 10million by 2020, out of which would affect 7 million people in developing countries including Nigeria.
Osinowo, who emphasised that smoking caused coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women, added that it also posed adverse social, economic and developmental effects on the lives of individuals, their families and the community at large.
"Tobacco consumption causes multiple health risks as cigarette smokers are 2.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers. WHO cancer agency also indicates that smoking has been linked to about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases. The economic burden includes direct medical care cost for tobacco-induced illnesses, absence from work, reduction in productivity and death”, he said.
The President, therefore recommended that a preventive comprehensive health education program on smoking cessation and control be adopted by government at all levels.
He also suggested that anti-smoking clinics be established in the PHCs and sickbay of colleges and tertiary institutions to rehabilitate those who were already enmeshed  in the habit.
Osinowo also appealed to family physicians and general medical practitioners disengage themselves from habits such as smoking so as to be good role models for the society to follow.
In his speech, the National President of the Association of General Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria(AGPMPN), Dr Anthony Omolola said that preventive healthcare through annual check up by a doctor was the best healthy living strategy.
Omolola added that eating right, physical fitness, emotional wellness as well as spiritual wellness were smart health choices which should be taken for now and the future.

Whither Nigeria's Tobacco Control Bill?


The World No Tobacco Day


2012 budget: Jonathan lied, says Senate

The war of words between President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly may be far from over.
 The Senate yesterday said Jonathan lied over the role played by the National Assembly in the 2012 Budget.
On Monday, Jonathan and House of Representatives’ Speaker Aminu Waziri T ambuwal openly disagreed at the Presidential Villa, Abuja over the failure of the President  to assent to Bills passed by the National Assembly.
Jonathan fired back that the lawmakers are overreaching the separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution.
Deputy Senate President yesterday at a Public Hearing on “A Bill to create Erosion control and prevention Commission (Establishment etc) 2012”  described as “distortion of facts” the claim of Jonathan that the National Assembly made inputs into the 2012 Budget that rendered it un-implementable.
 Ekweremadu said the Presidency has no excuse not to fully implement the budget.
He wondered why President Jonathan would accuse the National Assembly of tearing the 2012 budget into piece “when we sent it back substantially the way they brought it to us.”
He said the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to appropriate for the country.
 He frowned at the refusal of President Jonathan to assent to numerous Bills passed by the National Assembly.
 He said: “Now this reminds me of what the President said during the democracy day symposium.
 “We expressed our displeasure over some of the Bills which we sent to the Presidency for assent since last year that have not received Presidential assent.
 “And in response, the President said that is because we are creating agencies. We will continue to create agencies if it is important because that is why we are here. So we have to do our job. If agencies are to be created, they need to be created. Just to add to that, most of those Bills have nothing to do with agencies.
 “I remember we have the State of the Nation Address Bill, it has nothing to do with agency and it has not been signed.
 “We have the National Health Bill. It has nothing to do with an agency. It has not been signed. We have the Air Force Institute of Technology Bill and Tobacco Bill.
 “A whole number of Bills that would have changed a lot of things for this country have not been signed.
 “So, my advice to the Executive Arm of Government is to dialogue with the legislature in matter like this and find a common ground, instead of shifting blames because the making of laws is dynamic.
 “If institutions are to be created they will definitely be created. Any person who thinks that the creation of institutions should stop is wasting his time. It would not stop because the society itself is dynamic.
 “I also believe that the issue which he also raised regarding the Appropriation Bill was also a distortion of facts.
 “The President said that we tore the Appropriation Bill into pieces which made it impossible for implementation. Certainly that is not so.
 “I am aware that the 2012 Appropriation Bill was returned to the Executive substantially the same way they brought it.
 “So we are challenging them to ensure that that Bill, the 2012 Appropriation Act is fully implemented.
 “We did that, we gave them back the Appropriation Bill the way it came mostly because all the years they have been complaining that they could not implement the budget because of the inputs of the National Assembly.
 “So this year we said we are not making any input; we are going to give you the Bill the way you brought it as a challenge to ensure that it is implemented.
 “So we expect them to implement it 100 per cent because that is their own vision.
 “Of course, he also made reference to a point where they wanted to go to court to challenge the role of the National Assembly in altering Appropriation Bills.
 “Well, that will be a welcome development.
 “So we want to suggest that the Executive should please take that step of going to the Supreme Court or any court they wish to look at the constitutionality of our role in terms of appropriation for this country.
 “We will be happy to see the outcome and of course, we will obey whatever the court says.”


 SOURCE

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tobacco bill, big test of Jonathan’s promise – Oluwafemi


image
Akinbode Oluwafemi
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Director, Corporate Accountability and Campaigns of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) speaks on the National Tobacco Control Bill that is awaiting presidential assent in this interview with SINA FADARE. Excerpts:


The National Tobacco Control Bill was one of the high profile bills passed by the 6th National Assembly. What is the status of the bill now?
The bill was passed by the National Assembly, inciden-tally on World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) last year. What the people out there may not know is that passing a bill is not the end of legislative process. In fact, it is the beginning of another phase. There are legislative processes that a bill has to go through to prepare it for presidential assent. There is no time limit to the completion of this process, so it really depends on how fast the various arms of the Na-tional Assembly can work together to bring the legislative process to a completion.
But as a civil society organisation that has supported and advocated for this bill from the very beginning, ERA/FoEN has continued to offer support throughout this legis-lative process. We are now at the stage where the bill would be forwarded to the president for his signature in order to become law. This is the most delicate junction where we are afraid that the tobacco industry, having failed so far to stop this bill, may want to exact undue influence to stop it from becoming law.
You spoke about the tobacco industry’s influence over tobacco control processes. How realistic is this espe-cially in Nigeria?
The tobacco industry is known to have one of the biggest lobbying machines in the world and this is possible be-cause they have enormous financial resources with which to pay the best lawyers and lobbyists. In developing countries, the industry capitalises on poverty to bring in the trade of death in the name of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). That was the situation we found ourselves in 2001.
Is there a possibility that the signing of the bill would be tenable?
There are no legal hindrances to the signing of the bill. Let me tell you that the House of Representatives con-curred with the Senate version on the last day of legisla-tive duties in the last Assembly. There is no constitutional time frame for this process to happen. So, there is nothing to fear in this. This bill has followed to the letter, the consti-tutional lay down procedures for the enactment of a law. The only thing remaining now is for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign it and the process will be completed.
What if the President refuses to sign this bill?
No, the President cannot refuse to sign it bill. I remem-ber he said during his swearing-in that he will never let Ni-gerians down. This is a big test of the President’s promise. But he can refuse to sign a bill constitutionally. You know the executive is independent of the legislative process of law enactment and if there is a grey area, he may refuse to sign. But the tobacco bill is a public health bill. It is a bill that the President would sign. It is a bill that fulfils some of the electoral promises of Mr. President himself. Nigeria has an obligation to domesticate the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which in part is what the bill seeks to do. So, in order that we continue to fulfil our international obligations and continue our leadership role in continental and global tobacco control, Nigeria must demonstrate effectiveness and commitment at pushing through a comprehensive tobacco control policy despite the antics of the tobacco industry.
What should be done now to ensure a prompt signing of the bill?
The key is the Minister of Health. He must rise up to the occasion and take leadership of this process because the success or otherwise of public health in Nigeria is his responsibility. The minister is aware of the rising deaths associated with tobacco use; he knows that more young people under his watch are taking to smoking. He knows that while he is the Health Minister, several people are dy-ing daily from preventable tobacco deaths and he knows that the implementation of the tobacco bill will reverse this trend. There is an enormous responsibility on him. He is entrusted with the lives of Nigerians and he is aware of this. We hope and pray he will do needful.



'Nigeria's tobacco control bill is missing'

One year after the House of Representatives concurred with the National Tobacco Control Bill after it was passed by the Upper House, the bill appears to be missing.

At a Stakeholders' round table on the implementation of the bill organized by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) on Monday, in Lagos, Olorunnimbe Mamora, a former senator who sponsored the bill in 2009, told participants that "no one knows where the bill is now".
"We must track it from the National Assembly, also ask the office of the Attorney-General, and even the presidency," Mr. Mamora, who represented Lagos East constituency in the 6th Assembly, said.
"This is one of the reasons why we continue to hammer on transparency in governance."
"It is not a favour being done to the people. We need to know what is happening because we passed the bill in the National Assembly... It cannot just disappear."
The National Tobacco Control Bill, passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011, and concurred by the Lower House on May 31, 2011 (World No Tobacco Day), requires the assent of the president before it becomes law.
"We are in a funny country," Mr. Mamora continued. 
"There are things I don't understand in this country and this is one of such things. What is happening to that bill? 
"We are not sure whether the bill has been presented to the president or not. It's like the whole thing is shrouded in secrecy and confusion," Mr. Mamora said.
In July, 2009, a public hearing on the bill conducted by the senate attracted more than 40 civil society groups, including groups from the tobacco industry who were against the bill.
"There were seen and unseen forces who did not want the bill to be passed. But unfortunately, the bill has crossed the Red Sea and could not return to Egypt," Mr. Mamora said.
Highlights of the bill includes prohibition of the sale of cigarettes to persons under the age of 18; ban of promotion of tobacco or tobacco products in any form; display of the word 'WARNING' in capital letters on every package containing tobacco product, amongst others.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Director of Corporate Accountability and Administration ERA/FoEN, said that the bill is "actually not missing."
"I think for now, even if the president doesn't have the bill, the president can request for the bill and sign it," Mr. Oluwafemi said. 
"We know that there are so many undercurrents that are happening and he [the president] needs to stand firm and resist the tobacco industry," he added. 
Mr. Oluwafemi further stated that the position of the Nigeria Constitution is "very clear on this matter."
"In the event of the president not signing the bill, he should send it back to Parliament with reasons why he's not signing. 
"Now the Parliament has the option of either revising the bill andresending it or they can veto, they can vote again on the bill and the bill becomes law," he said.


World No Tobacco Day: ERA wants tobacco bill signed


As the World marks the 2012 “World No Tobacco Day” on Thursday, the Environment Rights Action has called on the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, to intervene and ensure the signing of the National Tobacco Control Bill.
Speaking at a stakeholders meeting in Lagos on Monday, the Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration ERA/FOEN, Mr. Akinbode Olufemi, said delay by the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to give his assent to the bill could lead to an epidemic of tobacco-smoking related diseases.
Also, in his presentation titled, “Promoting Public Health through legislation: Pushing the National Tobacco Control Bill, a former senator, Dr. Olorunnmibe Mamora, who sponsored the bill that was passed by the Senate last year, said the bill which seeks to prevent smoking in public spaces, smoking by minors and under-aged persons and pictorial advertisements of tobacco products, if passed into law, would reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases in Nigeria.
Mamora urged the President and the minister to investigate the present status of the bill as it was their responsibility to protect Nigerians.
” Government has a duty to protect the welfare and the health of the people. It is a public health bill that would reduce diseases from tobacco smoking which has attained the status of a weapon of mass destruction.
” We should know where the bill is by now as it has been passed by both the Senate and the National Assembly. It is our right not a privilege to know whether the President has received it or not. Nigeria signed a global health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, in 2004 and it must domesticate it. There must be transparency in issues of governance,” he stated.
Also, the Executive Director, ERA/FOEN, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, called on the minister to save the bill from the delay antics and lobbying of players in the tobacco industry.
Bassey said, “After the overwhelming support the bill received in the Senate and the House of Representatives, it is sad that till date, it has not been signed by the President. The intervention of the Health Minister is a singular action that generations of Nigerians will not forget. Giving Nigerians this gift as we mark the 2012 World No Tobacco Day will be remarkable.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tobacco control bill lost in transit


THE National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) may have gone missing between the National Assembly and the Presidency a year after it was passed by the last National Assembly.
Following the harmonisation and adoption of the Senate’s version of the Tobacco Control Bill by the National Assembly on May 31, 2011, it was expected that the bill should be sent to the desk of the President for assent into law.
Findings, however, revealed that while President Goodluck Jonathan is interested in the public health benefits of the bill, key officials at the Presidency could not track the document for presidential assent into law.
Most worrisome, according to stakeholders, who eagerly await the passage of the tobacco control bill, is that the Ministry of Health and other key public officials that should be more interested in the passage are keeping mum.
The NTCB 2008 was designed to help in effective implementation of the provision of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Frame-work Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that Nigeria endorsed on June 28, 2004.
The bill is to provide for the regulation of production, manufacture, sale, advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco or tobacco products in Nigeria. The frame-work policy on tobacco control bill is to promote public health and good environment that is free of tobacco-related hazards in the country.
A former lawmaker, who also sponsored the NTCB bill, Olorunnimbe Mamora, said that it was ‘funny’ that the bill was missing after “26 months of mounting a series of road-blocks before it was passed by the National Assembly.”
Mamora, who spoke at a round-table meeting of stakeholders, organised by the Environmental Rights Activists/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) yesterday in Lagos, said that all Nigerians must demand the status of the bill.
He lamented that the issue bothered on transparency in public places and Nigerians could not tell what was on the President’s mind in respect of the bill.
“We still cannot determine whether he got the bill or not, so it will be difficult to begin to apply the 30 days rule as provided by the constitution on the passage of a bill or alleged pocket vetoing.
“This is why we continue to hammer on transparency in governance. We have a right to know, it is not a favour that is done to the people. The bill that was passed by the National Assembly cannot just disappear. We, therefore, need to know what has happened to it,” he said.
Activist and former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikorodu Branch, Nurudeen Ogbara, added that since the bill was in defence of the right of Nigerians to good health, the stakeholders must ask questions from the Ministry of Health, House Committee on Health, the lawmakers and the President.
“The tobacco control bill should have been their priority, yet they are doing nothing on it. The minister of health must tell us his stand on the bill, whether he supports it or not, because he is supposed to be the chief implementing officer,” he said.
Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration ERA/FoEN, Mr. Oluwafemi Akinbode, advised President Jonathan to summon the key government officials to determine the actual status of the bill.
He noted that it behoved Nigeria to domesticate the FCTC, being a global treaty that she signed and ratified, “and that is what the NTCB hopes to domesticate.”

Monday, May 28, 2012

STAKEHOLDERS ROUNDTABLE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION ON THE NATIONAL TOBACCO CONTROL BILL

‘How tobacco firms are hurting our health system’


Ahead of this year’s World No Tobacco Day which is marked every May 31, Akinbode Oluwafemi, director of Administration and Corporate Accountability at the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), sheds lights on the strong lobby of tobacco companies and the need to have the National Tobacco Control Bill signed into law in this encounter with Joe Agbro Jr.
A meeting with Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi of the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) is filled with excitement. He talks with so much conviction and knowledge about the dangers of smoking that you are held captive and cannot help but listen and reason along with him.
Asked why he is so concerned about the battle against tobacco in the country, he says it is because tobacco kills about half of its consumers. But regrettably, policies in the country do not address this development. According to him, “when you look at smoking in Nigeria, you’ll think smoking is not a big problem. But, I’ must tell you that it’s a very big problem. And this problem has a link with how the tobacco industry is being regulated in the west. You know, most western governments have put in very stringent measures to regulate the practice of tobacco industry and to ensure that smoking rate is decreasing. And because of those measures and litigation, tobacco companies started looking elsewhere. The developing countries, of which Nigeria belongs, becomes a very prime target.”
Growing epidemic 
He is afraid that this smoking epidemic is very real here. According to a survey conducted in Adamawa, as much as 29percent of the youths in that are smokers, while a survey in 11 Lagos hospitals showed that “at least one person dies a day in each of those hospitals as a result of smoking.”
In the absence of a national statistics on smoking, a 2011 survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO)  shows that there is actually rising smoking among Nigerian girls rising up to the level of 3% a year. “That is alarming and extremely disturbing,” Oluwafemi says.
In the overall picture of insufficient healthcare infrastructure, diseases such as “heart disease, cancers of different types, impotence, heart condition, low birth rate, and loss of man hours at work places” are of serious challenge to the health care sector. 
According to WHO, tobacco currently kills over 5.4 million people yearly, with about 70percent of casualty occurring in developing countries like Nigeria, adding that every stick of cigarette contains over 4, 000 dangerous chemicals with over 40 of them being carcinogenic. 
To combat this disturbing outcome, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora sponsored the National Tobacco Bill which was eventually passed by the National Assembly on May 31st, 2011, a year ago. This Bill, Oluwafemi says, was “happily supported by Environmental Rights Action (ERA), it seeks to domesticate the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control, a global treaty, about the minimum standards that countries must adhere to in terms of legislating about tobacco.
“Nigeria is a signatory as well as a party. And since we are a party to that treaty, we are under obligation to implement the provision of that international treaty. The Bill seeks to end advertisement, sponsorship, and promotion, it prohibits the sale of cigarettes to minors, it recommended pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, and it bans smoking in public places. More importantly, that Bill seeks to create a committee, National Tobacco Control Committee which will serve as an advisory role in terms of reviewing the policy. That essentially is what that Bill is all about. I have heard people say that the Bill wants to close tobacco companies in Nigeria. I don’t know whether they have a separate Bill. This Bill has been passed and we are waiting for the presidential assent so that the Bill can become enforceable in Nigeria. We are worried that the presidential assent is taking too long. And we are very suspicious that some people somewhere may want to compromise public health and we’re calling on the president to see this Bill as an obligation to protect the health of the Nigerian people.”
He faulted the idea of mixing sponsorship with corporate social responsibility (CSR), Oluwafemi said, “Tobacco companies are inflicting monumental health impact on our nation. How do you mitigate that by buying computers or drilling boreholes? Can computers and boreholes make up for the lives of our brothers and sisters dying as a result of smoking? No. So, what we are saying is that let government impose appropriate taxes on those products.  Why is it that a pack of cigarettes is about six pounds (N1, 500) in London, seven dollars (N1, 300) in the US, and the same pack is selling for N200 in Nigeria? Other governments have moved ahead to impose appropriate taxes on tobacco products. Then, you can use those taxes to build the schools and to buy the computers. And this time around, even the way they have conducted themselves with the CSR, it is only another form of advertisement. They only practically move their advert budget into CSR so that they can always call government people to sit on the table and they can win public sympathy.”
He blames the non-passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill on the interference of the tobacco companies. “In fact, we have it on authority that they have started calling reporters not to run stories on World No Tobacco Day and stories around the Bill. They know that if this Bill is signed they would not be able to do those things that bring in more consumers the way they’ve always been doing. So, when this  is dragging for too long, our suspicion would certainly be that the tobacco industry has been moving underground as they’ve always been doing, not only  in Nigeria, but all around the world to undermine public health and to ensure that legislation that are for public health are never enacted.”  He punched holes in the industry’s argument that it has a large work force in the country, saying, “the tobacco companies are not employing up to 1, 000 people. That is the reality,” he said. 
He believes that the true nature of the industry is hidden from most Nigerians because “their business thrives on deception. They make people to think that when you smoke, it’s good. And they will never tell you the health implications. So, those deceptions were the basis of their objections which were completely irrelevant because whatever section that you have in this Bill are provisions that are just the basic in NTC Bill. Take for instance, in our Bill, we are seeking 50percent pictures on cigarette packs. A country as close as Mauritius is already enforcing 70percent. Ghana is already thinking of about 60 percent. In fact, some countries like Australia has even gone beyond the pictures and talk about plain packaging. They know it that they cannot debate this because the international community have moved way beyond what is even in this Bill as at today.”
He appealed to the president to sign the bill and save Nigerian youths from the looming tobacco epidemic.


SOURCE

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Doctors urge FG to adopt smoking cessation programmes


In a bid to reduce the ever in-creasing number of diseases and deaths caused by smok-ing, doctors under the auspices of the World Association of Family Doctors (WONCA) have charged government at all levels to adopt preventive comprehensive health education programmes on smok-ing cessation and control. The Africa Regional President, WONCA, Dr Sylvester Osinowo made this charge in Lagos at the commemoration of the 2012 WONCA World Family Doctor day themed “Healthy Living: The Role of the Family Doctor, Smoking Cessation Among Doctors and in the Community”. Osinowo said that the theme was chosen due to findings that smoking is one of the leading causes of morbidity in Nigerian compared to other risk factors. He added that the estimated death rate of 4.9m people in 1999 is expected to rise to 10m by 2020, out of 7m peoplewould be affected in developing countries including Nigeria. Osinowo who emphasized that smoking caused coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women, added that it also posed adverse social, econom-ic and developmental effects in the lives of individuals, their families and the community at large.

“Tobacco consumption causes multiple health risks as cigarette smokers are 2.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers.“W.H.O cancer agency also indicates that smoking has been linked to about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases.“

The economic burden in-cludes direct medical care cost for tobacco-induced illnesses, absence from work, reduction in productivity and death.”he said.

He added that the primary health care centers being the near-est to the people should be empow-ered to do “push” programmes with vigour to catch the youths before they adopt the “severe haz-ardous-to-health- habit”.

He also suggested that anti-smoking clinics be established in Primary Health Centres and sick bays of colleges and tertiary institutions to rehabilitate those who are already enmeshed in the habit.

Osinowo however appealed to family physicians and general medical practitioners to as well disengage themselves from hab-its such as smoking in order to be good role models for the society.

In his speech, the National President of the Association of General Private Medical Practi-tioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), Dr Anthony Omolola said that preventive health care through annual check up by a doctor re-mains the best healthy living strategy.

Omolola added that the im-portance of a family doctor in a patient’s life could not be over emphasized as they are the ones who are close to the patient, have a personal relationship with him thereby making it easier to treat him or her.


Who wants Tobacco Control Bill dead?


In one week, it will be exactly one year since the National Assembly passed the National Tobacco Control Bill. But as the world awaits another No Tobacco Day, many are worried that President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to sign the Bill into law, reports OLUKOREDE YISHAU
Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu appeared serious on Monday while addressing the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. The minister said Nigeria was dedicated to domesticating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty, which the country ratified several years back. 
Chukwu’s claim angered many tobacco control advocates. As far as they were concerned, the minister was not being sincere. Their reason: almost one year after the National Assembly passed the National Tobacco Control Bill, which is meant to domesticate the FCTC, President Goodluck Jonathan has not signed it into law. So, they believe only through the signing into law of the Bill which in can the country claim dedication to the FCTC. 
Following the minister’s statement in Geneva, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) urged him to ensure the Bill  is signed into law.
The group said the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will prevent an imminent tobacco epidemic.
ERA/FoEN, in a letter to the minister, said the failure of the President  to assent the Bill would not only reverse efforts to wean the youth off smoking, but also threaten the country’s leadership position in global tobacco control efforts.
The group said Nigeria having signed and ratified the FCTC is bound to domesticate it through the Bill.
The tobacco bill, sponsored by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, was passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011 and concurred by the House of Representatives on May 31, last year. The signature of the President is required to make the bill law.
ERA/FoEN, in a statement by its Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, said: “Our plea for the minister to intervene at this crucial time is a patriotic call to save Nigerians from the tobacco industry’s commitment to advocating weak legislation that will ensure they continue business as usual thereby worsening our health burden.
“After the overwhelming support the bill received in the Senate and House of Representatives, it is sad that till date, it has not been signed by the President. The intervention of the Health Minister is a singular action that generations of Nigerians will not forget. Giving Nigerians this gift as we mark the 2012 World No Tobacco Day will be remarkable.” 
Bassey reminded the minister of his promise during last year’s World No Tobacco Day to ensure the Bill gets presidential assent speedily. 
Does anyone want the Bill dead?
Tobacco Control advocates believe that tobacco giants such as the British American Tobacco (BAT) and  Phillip Morris (Altria), which partially acquired the International Tobacco Company (ITC) based in Ilorin, Kwara State, do not want the Bill to become law. 
A source said: “There are speculations that the British American Tobacco Nigeria has also gotten in touch with some key government people especially in the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the Ministry of Trade. The tobacco industry is said to be in disagreement with two important sections of the bill, which they want expunged. One of the sections is the non inclusion of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria in the membership of the National Tobacco Control Committee as provided for in the bill. Recently, there were talks of meeting between the Health Minister and his Trade counterpart, to iron out issues of concern on the bill, but the meeting didn’t hold. Our position is that if there is anything to be done on the bill, it can always go for amendments. That is what the National committee is there for. The SON also is in disagreement with some of the oversight functions it was allotted in the bill. Now, the SON wanted to be the chief implementation agency for the bill. We believe that the tobacco industry may be using all of these issues against the bill.”
ERA’s Director, Corporate Accountability, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, said the big tobacco companies are working against the Bill. 
Oluwafemi said: “The big tobaccoare 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.”
Really, the Bill, when it becomes law, has the potential to reduce the population of smokers and thus decimate the profits of the tobacco giants. This, said a source, is enough reason for them to frustrate it.
Some of the potentially ‘damaging’ parts include: creating smoke free public places,  banning of all forms of advertisement,  promotion, marketing and sponsorship of tobacco products, restricting the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18, compelling the tobacco industry to disclose the level of nicotine in cigarettes, inscribing health warnings on every pack of cigarettes in accordance with FCTC requirement of 50 per cent total display area and ban on sale of single sticks cigarettes and the ban on sale of cigarettes less than 20 pieces in a single pack.
Loud silence from BATN?
Attempt by The Nation to get BATN’s reactions to its ‘grouses’ with the Bill as passed by the National Assembly and the allegation that it was stalling the signing of the Bill yielded no result. Its spokesman, Aliyu Lawal, acknowledged receipt of questions sent to him on Monday  and promised to get back the following day. As at the time of going to press yesterday, he shifted the goalpost again by saying the ‘clean copy’ of the responses would be ready today. 
The terms of BAT’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BAT allow the company to build a $150 million cigarette manufacturing factory in Ibadan. The factory, which was commissioned on June 17, 2003, was seen by the government as a huge Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country. BATN also sees it as such, a fact attested to by its Managing Director, Beverly Spencer-Obatoyinbo in a paper she presented last March at a breakfast meeting organised by the Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce. 
 Prior to BATN’s formal entry into the Nigerian market, it acquired the shares of the moribund Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC) in 2000. The deal granted the company access to the infrastructure and manpower of the NTC. It also included the take-over of the thousands of tobacco farmers. BATN also upgraded its Zaria factory with a new GDX1 machine capable of producing 7,200 sticks per minute. 
Losses to cigarette smoking
But as BATN smiles to the bank, Akinsola Owoeye, a tobacco control advocate with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), said many are frowning either to the graves or hospitals.  
Owoeye  said:  ”Despite the promises made by the government and tobacco industry, death toll began to rise in Nigeria after BATN came in. A survey in Lagos State showed an increase in smoking prevalence from 8.9 per cent to 10 per cent, and prevalence of heavy smoking which rose to 16.3 per cent. It also shows that two persons die in the state daily from tobacco related diseases. Using the conservative estimates of Lagos State, it means each state in Nigeria has spent at least N2,847,000,000 ($ 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 makes nonsense of the 10 billion naira ($6,343,165) per year, tax paid by BATN.” 
The latest edition of the Tobacco Atlas shows that two per cent of men’s deaths in the country are linked to tobacco use. It says the country loses $591 million annually to tobacco use in terms of health care and related expenses. About 17 million sticks of cigarettes are smoked in the country annually. 
No wonder the  President of the Washington DC-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), Matt Myers, said the country is losing a lot by not domesticating the FCTC. Myers, who spoke with this reporter at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore, 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.”
Senate President David Mark, during deliberations on the Bill, said the damage tobacco use does to the country is enough for health to take precedence over any other considerations. 
Will Jonathan play ball?
Will Jonathan heed the call of the tobacco control advocates, the WHO and others to sign the Bill into law or will he, as alleged, dance to the tune of the tobacco giants--- which appear unhappy with some of its provisions?  It is a matter of time.


SOURCE

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ERAFoEN demands presidential assent on Tobacco Bill



As governments and public health advocates plan towards this year’s World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) which holds on May 31, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria has sent a strong appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan to use this year’s commemoration to sign the recently passed National Tobacco Control Bill. 

In a statement issued in Lagos and signed by ERA/FoEN Director, Corporate Accountability & Administration, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the organisation urged President Jonathan to sign the National Tobacco Bill (NTCB) to celebrate the global event.ERA/FoEN also asked the Health Minister, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu to take the lead in the processes that will lead to the signing of the bill ahead of the World No Tobacco Day. 

The 2012 WNTD has as theme: Industry Interference, and urges governments to protect their public health policies from vested and other tobacco industry interests.
Oluwafemi said: “Countries all over the world have made specific and strategic efforts to combat the dangers of smoking especially among the youths by putting laws in place to regulate the production and marketing of tobacco products.

The enactment of national laws and the domestication of the World Health’s Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) are singular efforts in this direction.

“Nigeria has made giant strides in fulfilling our international obligations by attempting to domesticate the FCTC through the National Tobacco Control Bill, but we are afraid these gains that we have worked for as civil society organizations, legislators and the Ministry of Health will be reversed if the President does not sign this bill to commemorate the WNTD 2012.

“The theme for this year, Preventing Industry Interference in Tobacco Control policies is very instructive because Nigerians are worried that the bill which was passed with overwhelming public support is yet to be signed into law by the President. This is a bill that would have direct impact on Nigerians. It is the dividend of democracy for Nigerians.

“The group also called on the President to ensure that Nigeria does not renege on its international commitments to the FCTC, as this could damage the country’s international reputation while it can irreparable damage in the country’s public health.

“We call on President Jonathan to demand today for the National Tobacco Control Bill.  The President cannot allow the tobacco industry to influence and derail his transformation agenda by providing qualitative healthcare for Nigerians. The whole world is waiting for Nigeria, the African continent is awaiting our leadership. The President should provide this leadership,” he stressed.




Doctors seek robust campaign against smoking


The World Association of Family Doctors (WONCA) in Lagos State on Sunday urged governments to adopt a comprehensive health education programmes that would enhance the campaign on the dangers of smoking. The Africa Regional President of WONCA, Dr Sylvester Osinowo, made the call at an event to commemorate the 2012 WONCA’s World Family Doctor Day. According to Osinowo, smoking causes the highest number of sickness and death of Nigerians.

He said the commemoration theme, “Healthy Living: The Role of the Family Doctor, Smoking Cessation among Doctors and in the Community,” was chosen to highlight the effects of smoking.

Osinowo said the effects of smoking included coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women.

Smoking also “has negative social, economic and developmental effects on the lives of individuals, families and the community at large.”


Health experts want smoking cessation at all levels


Irked by rising number of deaths and diseases associated with smoking, health experts have stressed the need for government at all levels to adopt preventive comprehensive health education programmes on smoking cessation and control.
The experts under the auspices of the World Association of Family Doctors, WONCA, noted that the estimated death rate of 4.9m people in 1999 was expected to rise to 10m by 2020, out of which would affect 7m people in developing countries including Nigeria.
In his submission at a lecture to commemorate this year’s World Family Day with the theme: “Healthy Living: The Role of the Family Doctor, Smoking Cessation Among Doctors and in the Community,” the Africa Regional President of WONCA, Dr. Sylvester Osinowo pointed out that smoking had been identified to cause the heaviest burden of morbidity and mortality on Nigerians compared to any other risk factor
Osinowo stated that smoking caused coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women added that it also posed adverse social, economic and developmental effects on the lives of individuals, their families and the community at large.
His words, “Tobacco consumption causes multiple health risks as cigarette smokers are 2.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers. WHO cancer agency also indicates that smoking has been linked to about 90 percent of all lung cancer cases”
“The economic burden includes direct medical care cost for tobacco-induced illnesses, absence from work, reduction in productivity and death.”he said.
He said “the primary health care centers being the nearest to the people should be empowered to do push programmes with vigour to catch the youths before they adopt the serious health hazard habit.
The President recommended that anti-smoking clinics be established in the PHCs and sickbay of colleges and tertiary institutions to rehabilitate those who were enmeshed already in the habit.
He also appealed to family physicians and general medical practitioners disengage themselves from habits such as smoking so as to be good role models for the society to follow.
Speaking,the National President of the Association of General Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, AGPMPN, Dr Anthony Omolola said that preventive healthcare through annual check up by a doctor was the best healthy living strategy.
On the importance of family doctor, Omolola notes that their roles could not be over emphasized in the medical treatment as family doctors are the ones closer to the patient, have a personal relationship with him thereby making it easier to treat him or her.

Doctors charge FG on anti-smoking policies


Doctors have called on the Federal Government to pass the anti-tobacco bill into law to reduce the population of Nigerians dying from tobacco-related diseases.

The Africa Regional President, WONCA, Dr. Sylvester Osinowo, who spoke in Lagos at the commemoration of the 2012 World Family Doctor day tagged, “Healthy Living: The Role of the Family Doctor in Smoking Cessation and in the Community, said in order to reduce deaths from diseases caused by smoking, government must enforce stricter anti-smoking laws
According to him, about five million people were affected globally by cigarette smoking in 1999 and the value was expected to rise to 10 million by 2020, out of which seven million would be from developing countries including Nigeria.
Osinowo stated that smoking had been directly linked to the increasing cases of coronary heart diseases, cancer and reduction in fertility for women.
“Tobacco consumption causes multiple health risks as cigarette smokers are 2.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers. World Health Organisation cancer agency also indicates that smoking has been linked to about 90 per cent of all lung cancer cases.
“The economic burden includes direct medical care cost for tobacco-induced illnesses, absence from work, and reduction in productivity and death.” he said.He noted that primary health care centres and anti-smoking clinics in tertiary institutions and communities should be made to champion these programmes due to their proximity to youths.

Environmentalists beg Health Minister to save tobacco Bill


  • Urges Jonathan to sign one-year-old Bill

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) yesterday urged the Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu to ensure the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) is signed into law.
The group said the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will prevent an imminent tobacco epidemic in the country.
ERA/FoEN, in a letter to the minister, said the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to assent the Bill would not only reverse efforts to wean the youth off smoking, but also threaten the country’s leadership position in global tobacco control efforts.
The group said Nigeria having signed and ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is bound to domesticate it through the Bill.
The tobacco bill, sponsored by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, was passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011 and concurred by the House of Representatives on May 31, last year. The signature of the President is required to make the bill law.
ERA/FoEN, in a statement by its Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, said: “Our plea for the minister to intervene at this crucial time is a patriotic call to save Nigerians from the tobacco industry’s commitment to advocating weak legislation that will ensure they continue business as usual thereby worsening our health burden.
“After the overwhelming support the bill received in the Senate and House of Representatives, It is sad that till date, it has not been signed by the President. The intervention of the Health Minister is a singular action that generations of Nigerians will not forget. Giving Nigerians this gift as we mark the 2012 World No Tobacco Day will be remarkable. 
Bassey reminded the minister of his promise during the 2011 World No Tobacco Day to ensure the Bill gets presidential assent speedily. He urged the minister to be on the watch for tobacco industry lobbyists that have been let loose to ensure the Bill never becomes law. 

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.




SOURCE