BY WINIFRED OGBEBO
…..two years after the National Tobacco Control Act came into existence, the country is finally taking steps to implement it
If the words of the minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole are anything to go by, Nigeria is set to enforce control in tobacco use two years after the National Tobacco Control Bill was passed into law by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Perhaps, Nigerians have every right to be worried and sceptical given the country’s history of difficulty in implementing policies; like for instance, the National Health Act (NHA).
Adewole said tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on World No Tobacco Day celebrated 31st May, this highlighted how tobacco threatens the development of nations worldwide, calling on governments to implement strong tobacco control measures.
These include banning marketing and advertising of tobacco, promoting plain packaging of tobacco products, raising excise taxes, and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.
Indeed, the global threat from tobacco is frightening. According to the WHO, action to stamp out tobacco use can help countries prevent millions of people falling ill and dying from tobacco-related disease, combat poverty and, according to a first-ever WHO report, reduce large-scale environmental degradation.
Tobacco use kills more than 7 million people every year and costs households and governments over US$ 1.4 trillion through healthcare expenditure and lost productivity.
“Tobacco threatens us all,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air.”
Dr Chan added: “But by taking robust tobacco control measures, governments can safeguard their countries’ futures by protecting tobacco users and non-users from these deadly products, generating revenues to fund health and other social services, and saving their environments from the ravages tobacco causes.”
All countries have committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to strengthen universal peace and eradicate poverty. Key elements of this agenda include implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and by 2030 reducing by one third premature death from non communicable diseases (NCDs), including heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes, for which tobacco use is a key risk factor.
It was in the bid to tackle the menace that tobacco poses that led to the establishment of the biggest public health treaty known as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO.
The WHO FCTC is an evidence-based treaty that responses to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic and tobacco-related diseases while reaffirming the right of all people to the highest standard of health.
In its response to protecting public health, Nigeria signed and ratified the WHO FCTC treaty in 2004 and 2005 respectively.
Through the legal mandate of FCTC instruments, the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with line ministries, department, agencies and other stakeholders developed the National Tobacco Control Bill which was enacted as the National Tobacco Control Act in May 2015.
One of the major objectives of the Act is to protect present and future generations of Nigerian citizens from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of use of or exposure to tobacco or tobacco products.
Speaking at the World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday 31th May, 2007, with the theme, “Tobacco, A Threat To Development,” the minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, observed that the theme for this year focuses on a germane issue.
Tobacco control has been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Agenda because it is one of the most effective means to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 and its target 3.4 and 3.a.
SDG 3– Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all age.
SDG3 target 3.4– Achieve one-third global reduction of premature deaths from NCDs through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and wellbeing.
SDG3 target 3.a– Strengthen the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in all Countries as appropriate.
The minister said in pursuance with the provision of the Act, he inaugurated the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) on the 12th of July, 2016 to advise him on tobacco control matters.
“ In line with her mandate, NATOCC produced draft National Tobacco Control Regulations 2017, which I shall soon transmit to the National Assembly for approval as a legal framework for the effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015.
He said in order to sustain the gains in tobacco control in Nigeria, he recently approved the establishment of the National Tobacco Control Unit (TCU) as required by sections 6 and 7 of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 to drive the plans, policies, projects and programmes of NATOCC and the Federal Ministry of Health.”
The Health minister announced that having carefully analysed the NTC Act 2015, the government will begin implementing the following provisions before the end of this year.
He listed the provisions itemized below:
Prohibition of sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below 18.
Ban of sale of cigarettes in single sticks. Cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20 sticks only.
Smokeless tobacco shall be sold in a minimum of a pack of 30 grams.
Ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet or other online devices
Prohibition of interference of tobacco industry in public health and related issues.
Prohibition of smoking in anywhere on the premises of a child care facility; educational facility; and health care facility. Other prohibited places for smoking include playgrounds; amusement parks; plazas; public parks; stadium, public transports, restaurants, bars, or other public gathering spaces.
Prosecution of owner or manager of any of the places listed above, who permits, encourages or fails to stop smoking in the above listed places.
Prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of any kind.
Compliance with specified standard for content as set out by Standards Organisation of Nigeria.
He also directed the Department of Public Health in the Federal Ministry of Health to prepare appropriate messaging which the ministry shall display in conspicuous location in all public institutions.
“I encourage all private establishments to support us in this laudable initiative. I shall also in few weeks communicate with government agencies through the office of my colleagues on the need to partner with us in the successful implementation of these provisions. “
Many civil society organisations have applauded this latest move by the federal government. According to them, tobacco control can help break the cycle of poverty, contribute to ending hunger, promote sustainable agriculture and economic growth, and combat climate change.
They aver that increasing taxes and levies on tobacco products can also reduce its consumption and secondarily generate revenue which can be used to finance universal health coverage and other developmental health programs.
Facts from WHO showed that tobacco use costs national economies immensely, this is through increased health-care costs and decreased productivity. It also worsens health inequalities and exacerbates poverty, as the poorest people spend less on essentials such as food, education and health care.