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Nigeria And e-Cigarettes Threat

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At the just-concluded Eighth session of the Conference of the Parties on the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) in Geneva, the threat posed by Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) was one of the most heated topics debated by the 181 Parties including Nigeria.

ENDS, also called e-cigarettes or vaping devices, produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavoured liquids and nicotine that is inhaled by the user. The flavours are also encased in easily accessible gadgets like flashlights, flash drives, and even pens.

Because of the contentious nature of the issue, delegates were in unanimity that in-depth studies needed to be conducted to ascertain the far-reaching health impacts of ENDS and the need to subject them to WHO-FCTC guidelines that prioritize health far and above any other consideration.

The position of the delegates which was largely hailed by civil  society echoes growing public health concerns that the products have already started eliciting in the United States and other western nations where their use has grown speedily particularly among the

youth.

“The Flavour Trap” a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) captures the fact that flavours which appeal to children are being used by the tobacco industry to lure kids into smoking thereby undermining overall efforts to reduce youth tobacco use. Their biggest worry is that a new generation of kids risk nicotine addiction which the ENDS products deliver through the appealing flavours. The report documented the explosion of swee t-flavoured tobacco products and how they fuel the popularity of e-cigarettes and cigars among youth.

At the treaty talks in Geneva the worry of delegates centred on the imminent danger that the developing countries particularly in Africa face in view of the already widespread availability of unregulated tobacco products that are accessible to the youths in the open markets.

Nigeria, which had a commendable showing at the talks, is particularly notorious because of its porous borders, which enable everything to be smuggled in, including flavoured cigarettes.

The need for all hands to be on deck to checkmate this imminent threat was championed by Nigeria’s minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire who, at the convergence also urged the global community to promote policies and international cooperation that will protect public health policies from commercial interests of tobacco companies.

Ehanire minced no words in reeling out Nigeria’s progress in tobacco control, including its adopting of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) directive on harmonisation of excise duty on tobacco products, the revised excise tax regime on tobacco products which was increased from 16 per cent to 23.2 per cent, and the review of the Standards Cigarettes which now completely bans characterising flavour, including menthol in cigarettes.

These strides notwithstanding, unless the National Assembly wakes up  to its responsibility of ensuring the draft regulations for enforcing the National Tobacco Control Act are passed, the nation may soon find itself battling with the influx of the unregulated e-cigarettes now making global inroads. For now, only nine key provisions of the Act are being enforced, leaving a lot of loopholes that enforcing the Act in entirety would have blocked.

British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) has already flown a kite in respect of e-cigarettes in May this year when Freddy Messanvi, the company’s Legal and External Affairs Director, in a statement to mark World No Tobacco Day described it as “a natural extension of the company’s desired destination in harm reduction”.

Messanvi said that the e-cigarette innovation is the outcome of years of extensive research by tobacco companies into safer alternatives to cigarettes. A local group – the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) had cautioned that BATN promotion of e-cigarettes was “very disturbing” and should be noted seriously by the public health community.

How serious the Nigerian government takes this warning is best left to the imagination when one considers the country’s delay in finalising   the instrument of accession of its ratification of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products since May 23, 2018 when it was signed and announced by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

The protocol aims to eliminate all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products and provides tools for preventing illicit trade by securing the supply chain, including by establishing an international tracking and tracing system. It will also counter illicit trade through dissuasive law enforcement measures and a suite of measures to enable  international cooperation.

Bureaucratic bottlenecks still delay finalising of the instrument of the ratification and deposition of same at WHO headquarters.

As members of the National Assembly continue to play ostrich, ENDS would seem the next frontier that the tobacco industry will put its stamp to retain its choke hold on the youths and uninformed.

Unfortunately members of the National Assembly saddled with the task of checkmating this advance are yet to wake up from their slumber.

–Udia writes from Uyo





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