Verifiable statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that no fewer than six million people die from tobacco consumption annually. Five million others die from direct consumption while another 600,000 non-smokers die from being exposed to second-hand smoke. The world body also warned that the global death rate from tobacco consumption might be up to eight million in 2030 if urgent steps were not taken. The report went on to claim that 80 per cent of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illnesses and death is heaviest.
This statistics is coming despite the annual campaigns and rituals of the World Tobacco Day which encourages 24-hour abstinence and explains to smokers and non-smokers alike the inherent health and other socio-economic and cultural cum legal implications of tobacco consumption. Either the campaigns are not effective enough or due to people living in denial, most smokers are still ignorant of the harmful effects of tobacco consumption.
Health authorities explain that there are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be destructive and more than 50 others are identified to cause cancer. While second-hand smoke is said to be the major cause of cardiovascular, respiratory and coronary heart diseases as well as lung cancer in adults, and in infants, it causes sudden death in others. These alone are enough reasons to discourage tobacco consumption globally.
It is instructive to note the strong stance of the Nigerian delegation that attended the just-concluded eighth conference of parties to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) in Geneva, Switzerland. The delegation not only intensified the country’s advocacy that the tobacco industry must be held accountable for tobacco harms ,but also became one of the models in ensuring that the treaty talks remained focused on stamping out loopholes that might be exploited by the tobacco industry to infiltrate country delegations.
Relying on this strong position, Nigerians should expect expedited action in the processing of Nigeria’s ratification of the illicit trade protocol so that the instrument of the ratification can be deposited at the WHO just as they expect that, post-COP8, the government will now move speedily to remove all the other bottlenecks to successful tobacco control in the country, particularly the draft regulations for the enforcement of the National Tobacco Control Act.
The vital economic and political roles Nigeria plays in Africa and its significant market for the tobacco industry prompted the World Conferences on Smoking and Health and WHO in the late 1970s to encourage the Nigerian government to take steps towards tobacco regulation. And in response, the tobacco industry lobbied government ministries, used front groups and its trade group, the Tobacco Advisory Council of Nigeria, to block and weaken government efforts.
Though Decree 20 was a strong law for its time, it was regrettably weakened due to tobacco industry’s interference. Nigeria ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, and enacted a comprehensive National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) in May 2015. Lessons learned from Decree 20’s experience should be applied to protect NTCA 2015, and in compliance with WHO FCTC Article 5.3 protect tobacco control policies from interference. It is worrisome, in our opinion, that each passing day, in spite of government’s efforts, youths and women, in particular, are being initiated to the deadly habit of smoking. This, indeed, poses a serious challenge.
In addition, studies also reveal that illicit tobacco market account for at least one in every 10 cigarettes consumed worldwide. Already, the European Union puts the cost of illicit trade in cigarettes among member states at over 10 billion euros annually in lost tax and customs revenue, just as about 65 per cent of cigarettes seized in the Union is counterfeit. More disturbing also is that the illicit trade not only worsens the global tobacco epidemic, but its security implications manifest heavily in the areas of financing organised crime, drugs, human and arms trafficking as well as terrorism.
While we call on all countries to work together to end the illicit trade of tobacco products, it is imperative for the government to ignite the process and mechanism that will ensure effective implementation of the anti-tobacco control bill, which the immediate past administration signed into law.
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