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Real Balanced Regulation for Tobacco Industry


News » Lifestyle
Nigeria

IMAGE: Honourable Ndudi Elumelu, House of Representatives »

September.08.2014

Reports of tobacco companies in Nigeria submitting that regulatory approach to the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) should not only be sensitive to health approach but must be balanced as to cater for economic interests may seem harmless but underneath lies an orchestrated strategy by the tobacco industry to completely derail the process towards the passage of an effective tobacco control law.  Nigerians are not deceived by such seeming sympathy for regulation.

The public hearing itself, organised by the House Committee on Health Chaired by Honourable Ndudi Elumelu, proved to be an opportunity to x-ray critical provisions of the bill to enable it fly.

Among the opponents of strict regulations as stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), the leading tobacco company in the country, whose representative said the transnational wants only a balanced, workable, evidence-based regulation.

With such demands, public health groups wonder what other evidence the National Assembly and in deed Nigerians need to ensure that a product that kills is regulated so that underage and uninformed people do not take to smoking and endangering themselves and those who do not smoke. The WHO says 5.4 million people die annually from tobacco smoke with over 70 % of this figure from developing nations like Nigeria. The global body also warned that if nothing is done to check the trend, by the year 2030 about 8 million people will die annually from tobacco smoke.

Here in Nigeria the growing number of deaths from tobacco smoke pokes the arguments of the Institute of Public Policy Analysis (IPPA) whose representative, reading from a memoranda to the House, said: ‘Nigeria can’t be said to be at high risk for tobacco related health issues.’

No one can deny the dangerous effects of tobacco use on our social life and the economy. As a nation we have lost talented artistes, journalists, and even lawmakers to the tobacco malaise.

In Lagos State, a 2006 survey conducted on 11 state-owned hospitals in 2006 showed that there were over 9,000 patients suffering from tobacco-related illnesses. When the survey was conducted, the state government said it was expending about N216, 000 for the treatment of each patient while the patient has to cough out (in literal terms) another N70,000 for treatment. The drain on the resources of the state is better imagined. Replicated country-wide, we then imagine what kind of evidence the tobacco merchants need to agree with the vast majority of Nigerians that demand regulation so that their wards do not die from tobacco smoke.

Frighteningly, the frequency of reports on what tobacco regulation should be or not, after the last Public Hearing indicates that some groups are at work fuelling the process. The global tobacco industry has been identified with aggressive opposition to health policies that attempt to reduce tobacco-related deaths.  Some tactics that the tobacco industry has deployed in other climes include legal and economic threats, funding front groups to oppose health policies, making political donations and funding mass media campaigns to discredit health policy. This happened in South Africa, Uruguay and India, among others.

Recently, a tobacco industry front organisation – International Tobacco Growers Association instigated a group of tobacco farmers in Uganda to write to the Ugandan parliament demanding the deletion of several life-saving provisions that exclude partnerships and endorsements including voluntary contributions, and incentives or privileges that promote tobacco businesses in the Ugandan Anti-Tobacco Bill 2014. ITGA is a known front group of several tobacco transnationals that use it as a platform to reject any form of regulation of tobacco farming.

Disturbingly, the requirements Ugandan farmers want removed are those in sync with the WHO FCTC, which Uganda has signed and ratified. The recommendations are safeguards to protect the treaty from the manipulations of the tobacco transnationals. In the petition addressed to the Ugandan Parliament, the farmers were prodded by the tobacco industry to shun proven scientific evidence of tobacco impacts on the environment, debunking them as “exaggerated negative effects of tobacco growing.”

It is on this premise that we must again ask members of the House committee on Health to disregard the demands of so-called balanced regulation which means accommodating the interest of companies that are only interested in profits at the expense of the lives of our people.

Not only must Parties to the FCTC (Nigeria is one among over 200 countries) limit interactions with tobacco companies to a minimum and treat the tobacco industry differently from other industries, tax measures must be part of the tobacco legislation. It might also be worth it for Nigeria to explore options like that of the United States which in 1998 forced tobacco corporations to turn over millions of previously secret internal documents and reviews which showed that although tobacco companies knew their products were addictive and harmful, they deliberately hid this knowledge while publicly denying the addictiveness of their products and exposure to second-hand smoke.
We are counting on Hon. Elumelu’s team not to fail us. A strict regulation of tobacco company operations is the way to go!

 
Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 3 Years ago
 

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Tags:     NTCB     Honourable Ndudi Elumelu     WHO     BATN     IPPA     International Tobacco Growers Association     FCTC

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