Nigeria and the rest of the world just staged activities to raise awareness on tobacco consumption and its effects on consumers. Leading the charge is the World Health Organisation (WHO) which, in its 8th report on the global tobacco epidemic, tracked the progress made by countries in tobacco control since 2008. The report presented data on electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as ‘e-cigarettes’ and stated that many countries are making progress in the fight against tobacco but some are not.
Globally, tobacco kills more than seven million people every year, of which more than six million are from direct tobacco use and almost 890,000 from exposure to second-hand smoke. About 80 per cent of the tobacco burden are from the low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria.
Article 6 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which Nigeria ratified in 2005, and Section 43 of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 require establishment of tax measures as one of the best-buys to control tobacco consumption.
The WHO recommends excise tax rate of not less than 70 per cent of the total prices of tobacco products and global standard also shows that for every 10 per cent increase in price of tobacco product, there is a corresponding four per cent – seven per cent decrease in tobacco consumption.
It is important to observe that tobacco taxes are not only seen as a revenue source but also, and more importantly, as an effective public health intervention to reduce tobacco consumption.
It is for this reason, therefore, that most countries, including Nigeria, adopted tobacco tax policies in line with the WHO convention directed at reducing the prevalence of tobacco. The 2012 Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS), report warned that tobacco use will be a major cause of disability or premature death. It also stated that policies ought to be put in place to stop youth from starting its use while encouraging current users to quit.
On its part, the Nigerian government has initiated tobacco control measures to ameliorate the increased tobacco prevalence in the country. More notably, Nigeria domesticated the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) with the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015.
While the level of enforcement may be a different issue altogether, Nigeria has legally banned smoking in public places and the sale of cigarettes in single sticks. It has also prohibited the promotion and advertisement of tobacco products as well as the sale of cigarettes by and to minors.
Through regulation, the country has consolidated on its efforts by effecting Graphic Health Warning (GHW) on cigarette packs while also controlling the supply chain through the issuance of licenses to manufacturers, distributors, and importers. However, in our opinion, some countries have advanced tobacco control efforts just as the tobacco industry engage in strategies that ultimately undermine tobacco control efforts.
For instance, the 2012 Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS), revealed that while new or emerging tobacco products are still not widespread in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, concerted efforts are already being made by the tobacco industry to popularize the products, especially among young people.
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), who has been an advocate against tobacco use, called for urgent government action to curtail the tobacco industry from escalating the prevalence of emerging tobacco products in the country.
It may be said that the prevalence of new tobacco products is currently low in Nigeria. But like many African countries, this position is gradually changing as the industry is deliberately marketing the products to appeal to the youth segment of the population.
A November 2020 study published in the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal found that some smokers regard e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool. However, there is one major barrier to smokers switching to e-cigarettes in Nigeria; price. This, in our view, should be intensified.
There is, therefore, a critical need for regulation of new tobacco products in Nigeria as modern e-cigarettes are more socially acceptable alternatives to combustible cigarettes among adolescents and young adults, due to their attractive design, user-friendly functions, less aversive smoking experiences, desirable flavors, and the ability to be used discreetly. It is the duty of the health authorities in the country to check the prevalence of e-cigarettes before they become as endemic as combustible cigarettes.
As we commend the government’s efforts geared towards controlling cigarette consumption in the country, it is pertinent also to urge the authorities to strive to meet set target in the area of e-cigarette indulgence. One of the ways of achieving this is to put in place appropriate legislations and control measures.