Search This Blog

Monday, March 9, 2009


By - Seun Akioye

I happened to be at the public gallery of the Senate Chambers the day distinguished Senator Olorunnibe Mamora presented his historic anti-tobacco bill in the National Assembly. In his lead debate he made justifications on why the bill should be passed. One of such is the increasing and alarming rate at which young people take to smoking currently. He mentioned the fatality rate of two persons dying every day due to a tobacco related illness and which came to light during a recent survey in eleven Lagos hospitals.

Senator Mamoora, also noted that it takes an average of 20 years for the full impact of smoking to manifest and take its deadly toll and if the causalities that we see now are a result of past smoking habits one wonders what would become of our public health in 20 years time. He mentioned some of the goals of the bill which include; protection of the nation’s public health and protection of young people and others from inducement to use tobacco and tobacco related products by restricting access to tobacco.

Over ninety eight per cent of the Senators spoke in strong support of the bill. One is humbled by the level of awareness and commitment of the lawmakers to bestow public health legacy to the next generation. Infact, Senator Chimarooke Nnamani took time to lecture the senate on the dangers of smoking. The senate also noted that tobacco industry has the strongest lobbying team in the world and may want to jeopardize the bill. To forestall this possibility, Senate President David Mark, directed the Senate Committee on health to expedite action on the bill and return it to the chambers in two weeks. It is sad to know that the lobbying by the industry that the senate was so wary of has already started.

Writing in the Vanguard of February 18th 2009, one Tayo Olatoye exercised his fundamental rights to begin a campaign against the bill. First, I commend Olatoye for fully disclosing his identity. He is the Associate Consultant/Account Director, Quadrant Company. The Head Consultant, Quadrant, Bolaji Okusaga had in an earlier media interview revealed that the company is the main publicists for the British American Tobacco Company though he also admitted that “BAT account has been a bit challenging.” So we know who Olatoye speaks for.

That Olatoye merely regurgitate BAT lines is not surprising. What is worrying is his attack on Nigeria’s sovereignty. I also find it difficult that a Nigerian could publicly argue a legislation whose aim is to combat the health impacts of smoking.

Olatoye made a wobbly mention of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control(FCTC) and the Conference of the parties held in Durban in November. For clarity, the FCTC is an international treaty for the regulation of the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of tobacco products. The treaty was initiated by the World Health Assembly (WHA) in accordance with it’s mandate of promoting highest standard of health globally. The FCTC currently has 162 Parties including Nigeria. Nigeria signed the FCTC on June 28, 2004 and ratified on October 20, 2005. The treaty entered into force on February 27, 2005. Since Nigeria is a Party to this treaty she is obligated to domesticate its provisions. That is what Mamora’s bill seeks to achieve.

In his article, Olatoye said the tobacco control bill would discourage foreign investment. Olatoye also claimed that the legislation would affect the livelihoods of about 2,500 direct employees of BATN and over 300,000 others like retailers, farmers and suppliers.

Olatoye should correct his data. The publicist actually cried more that the bereaved. BATN on its website admits it employs only about 900 people for its entire operations. Where did Otatoye gets his 2,500 figure? The farmers Olatoye alluded to are simply highly impoverished farmers who also grow other crops apart from tobacco. Secondly, the 300,000 retailers he mentioned are the Malams and the itinerary traders who sell different types of consumer products of which cigarette is just one in a thousand.

Personally, I have been involved in close monitoring of the activities of tobacco companies and I have evidences to prove that BAT impoverishes families and encourages the use of children on tobacco farms. A simple survey carried out on the so called retailer’s show that cigarettes only form a tiny part of the overall products they sell. Take away cigarettes and it will not affect the overall income. This is the irony Olatoye celebrates as poverty alleviation when the company he represents has done more to improvish Nigerians in the last couple of years. We will not see the full extent of the so called BATN $150 million investment until about 20 years time when the kids of today now grown adult begin to get sick, in 20 years time when government begin to spend scarce resources to treat them and when hitherto promising Nigerians die because of tobacco related sickness.

If the Olatoye takes the time to read Mamora’s bill, he will see clearly that there is space for the Standards Organisation and the Advertising Council of Nigeria in the regulation of tobacco industry. What Mamora’s bill seeks to achieve is the regulation of tobacco as a means for promoting public health. The lead institution for promoting public health is the Federal Ministry of Health working in collaboration with other stakeholders. That is what Mamora’s bill recommend, that is the practice worldwide.

At this point, i will like to remind people who might be working for BAT like Olatoye that the same company has signed an agreement with the Food and Drugs Board in Ghana to prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion including branding of vehicles or point of sale, the yearly registration of each product at a yearly fee, health warning to include pictures to cover 50 per cent of the display area. The packs must carry “for sale in Ghana.”

Also this month, BAT agrees to comply with Mauritius government directive that cigarette packs must carry pictorial warnings to cover 65 percent of the display area. Mamora’s bill is recommending 50 per cent of the display area.

Besides, the United States government this month raised Federal taxes on tobacco products to 62 per cent. That excludes state taxes. New York state for instance, has a tax of $4.64 on each pack.

Olatoye’s argument about cigarette production as a way of diversifying Nigeria’s economic base in laughable. What he recommends is that Nigeria should continue to invest in a product that is rejected globally. That is warped economics. Cigarette sale is plummeting in most parts of the world. Even tobacco companies are diversifying.

I fully support more money going into government coffers, since oil price is dropping. What i recommend is high taxes on tobacco products and the removal of all tax incentives on cigarette production. It is time government ask BAT to return what it reaped illegitimately when they were benefitting from the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and other tax reliefs granted them under the Obasanjo administration.

What tobacco companies in Nigeria are afraid of is an enlightened citizenry who will be ready to report to the authorities anytime they breach the law. They do not want a new Nigeria where the government takes the health of the citizens as sacred. They are afraid of public awareness to empower our youth to say an emphatic no to tobacco addiction. That is why they are afraid of Mamora’s bill.

Who could ever forget how tobacco companies have taken Nigerians for fools. Who will forget the several promotions like Wild & Wet, Loud In Lagos, St’ Moritz style collection, Experience It and most recently Experience Freshness where young lungs were targeted and lured or sometimes forced to smoke. There is no country on earth that would condone such dehumanizing and terribly wicked act against its young citizens.

For the purpose of emphasise, let me list some of the key points of the bill and why every Nigerian should support its early passage. First, the bill domesticates the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which is an obligation since Nigeria is a Party to the Convention, it prohibits the sale of cigarettes to persons under the age of 18, prohibits sale of cigarettes in sticks.

The bill prohibits all forms of tobacco advertisement , sponsorships and promotions, endorsement or testimonial, it prohibits the sale of tobacco products 1,000 metre radius of any place designated as smoke free, also prohibits smoking in public places. The bill also empowers the government to use litigation to recoup liabilities related to tobacco consumption.

Going by these laudable objectives, I enjoin Olatoye to join other well meaning Nigerians to support Senator Mamoora and the National Assembly in creating a holistic approach to stop this menace in our midst. In that our names will be on the honourable side when history is written.

Seun Akioye is with the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria.