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Monday, April 6, 2009

National Tobacco Control Bill - MAN vs. Tobacco Lobbyists

MAN warns over Anti-Tobacco Bill -says action will affect country’s GDP

The rank of those calling for caution by the Senate in the treatment of the anti-tobacco bill, has been swelled by the apex manufacturing body, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN).


In making his call, the Chairman of MAN, South-West Zone (comprising Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and Kogi states), the tobacco-producing area of the country, Chief Isaac Adaegbo Akinpide, said that the tobacco bill currently at the Senate is geared towards killing tobacco production in the country.

Speaking with reporters he said: “MAN recognises the need to regulate the tobacco industry, but in doing this, government should be careful that it does not kill the legal industry. If the legal industry disappears, people will still smoke in this country so there will be a demand for tobacco products and the vacuum will be filled by smugglers.”

The MAN chairman also highlighted the economic import of the move, if it materialises in the Senate. He asserted, “over the past few years, approximately 50 per cent of the workforce in the nation’s manufacturing sector have been thrown out of jobs and in 2008, the manufacturing sub-sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was a paltry 4.13 per cent down from 10 per cent which it stood at in the preceding years.”

He urged the Federal Governments to be more careful with its policies so as to protect local industries. “The tyre industry suffered the same fate with Michelin in Port Harcourt and Dunlop in Ikeja closing their factories. These developments can be attributable to dysfunctional government policies which do not take into consideration, the impact they will have on the economy,” he explained.

A couple of weeks ago, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Industries, Senator Kamorudeen Adedibu (PDP, Oyo South) in condemning the bill, stated that it is a ‘misplaced priority.’ Many other Nigerians have in different fora, advised that the Senate apply caution, even as it is a general consensus that the tobacco industry needs to be regulated. SOURCE

Tobacco Lobbyists and the National Tobacco Control Bill
-By Jakpor, a public health advocate, Lagos

It is becoming evident by the day that beneficiaries of the tobacco industry will stop at nothing to keep the tobacco business going even if it means distorting hard facts that have far-reaching implication on our well-being as a people.

Articles that have popped up in the media since news broke that the National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 received overwhelming support from members of the Senate did not only confirm this assertion but also deepened my conviction that indeed the bill is coming at a very auspicious time.

It is coming at a time that independent findings by well-meaning and concerned organisations, including a recent one by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) confirmed that like no other time in history, tobacco companies are aggressively marketing cigarettes to children across Africa and conscripting them into smoking through parties and deceptive concepts.

Here in Nigeria, the successful campaigns to bring down tobacco billboards and halt advertisement on set notwithstanding, tobacco firms have always conned their way around the law. British America Tobacco (BAT) –the market leader here, has been successfully replaced TV, newspaper and radio adverts with indirect adverts –branding of T-shirts, kiosks and vehicles in its colors and logo. The company also recently owned up to organizing secret smoking parties with an unstated mission: To recruit the swarm of underage that are deluded into believing that smoking is “hype” and “classy”.

It was on this foundation that the National Tobacco Control Bill, sponsored by Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Olorunnimbe Mamora, makes it an offence to sell or market tobacco products to persons under the age of 18 and imposes a fine not exceeding N50,000 or imprisonment of a term not exceeding six months or both on violators. It also prohibits all advertisements, sponsorships, testimonials and promotion of cigarettes in the country.

In the week since the Senate threw its weight behind the bill, I have glossed over the water-less arguments of the tobacco foot soldiers trying to hack away at provisions in the bill until I stumbled on an amazing report that prompted me to put pen to paper.

In the widely published report, Chairman, South-West Zone of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Chief Isaac Adaegbo Akinpide was quoted: “MAN recognizes the need to regulate the tobacco industry, but in doing this, government should be careful that it does not kill the legal industry. If the legal industry disappears, people will still smoke in this country so there will be a demand for tobacco products and the vacuum will be filled by smugglers.”

While I may not want to believe that the view of the MAN chief represents all MAN member groups (even in his South West), this shocking statement at a time Nigerians are counting the cost of the health impacts of tobacco is very disappointing.

For one, his argument on economic and job losses that will worsen the approximately retrenched 50 per cent of workforce in the nation’s manufacturing sector since 2008 does not have any bearing with the issues at stake: increasing number of deaths due to tobacco and the need to rein in on this development through stiff laws like obtains in other parts of the world.

Time and again, MAN as a body has blamed the parlous state of the manufacturing sector on inconsistency in government policies and divided interest. What inconsistency is more than a government that on one hand promises to uphold the health of its citizens and on the other hand, welcomes a merchant of death? That is what the open arms that the Obasanjo administration gave to BAT in 2001 when it applauded a $150 million cigarette manufacturing plant in Ibadan represents. Since that time, more youths have taken to smoking and the rest of course is history.

The issue of smuggling is an insignificant one which Nigerians know too well: Cigarette smuggling can be laid on the doorsteps of the tobacco industry whose internal documents confirm is actually behind the booming smuggling business.

But then, an issue that is even more surprising that tobacco lobbyists avoid like a plague is that recommendations in the bill is not actually a novel innovation by our Senators. The World Health Orgnisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Nigeria signed on June 28, 2004 and ratified on October 20, 2005 recognizes the need for parties to the protocol to enact laws that will clip the wings of the tobacco firms.

WHO initiated the FCTC in 1999 in response to the global tobacco epidemic and it was subsequently endorsed unanimously by WHO member states on 21 May, 2003 to become a legally-binding international public health treaty. The WHO FCTC requires nations to implement a range of tobacco control policies including banning smoking in public places, raising taxes on tobacco products, banning tobacco advertising, and labeling cigarette packets with health warnings.

The Conference of Parties to the FCTC which met in Durban, South Africa last year with a strong delegation from the Nigerian government also strengthened Article 5.3 of the protocol which protects the treaty and related public health policies from tobacco industry interference and even prohibits government partnership or collaboration with the tobacco industry. Ever since, the slogan of the tobacco industry has been “revenue will be lost by governments”
Fortunately this argument did not sell in neighboring Ghana where, even before the COP3, because of the same antics they have been accused of in Nigeria, the Ghanian government delisted BAT from the Ghanian Stock Exchange and threw it out of that country.

The same deceptive arguments also did not hold in the United Kingdom and other countries of Europe that sent them packing after decades of operation.

It is safe to remind the few Nigerian beneficiaries buying up newspaper space to encourage the production and sale of a confirmed killer product that the same companies they front for admitted their crimes in the United States of America where they pay $206 billion to the coffers of 46 states annually in fines for their past, present and future death-inducing actions. This started in 1998 under what has come to be known as Master Settlement Agreement, and will continue for another 14 years.

Going by statistics from the WHO which puts tobacco-induced deaths at over 5.4 million annually (more than 75 per cent happening in developing nations), it becomes quite clear that proponents of a so-called foreign direct investment in form of tobacco products do not understand what pro-people investment really is.

One of the greatest producers and exporter of tobacco leaves is Malawi, a nation that is competing for permanent status in the list of poor nations in the World Poverty Index, Clearly, tobacco has not brought Malawi wealth and will not bring us wealth either.

If the production and marketing of tobacco products is actually the definition of what a foreign direct investment is, the Lagos State government for instance, will not be expending N216,000 annually on the 9,527 tobacco-related cases in 11 out of 26 public hospitals as revealed in a 2006 survey.

If it is actually an investment worth celebrating, tobacco growing communities in Iseyin and Ago Are in the same Oyo State which houses the $150 million so-called investment will not remain as backward and rustic as it was maybe in the time of the Late Bishop Ajayi Crowther of blessed memory.

Since 2001 when BAT commissioned a $150 million plant in Ibadan, Oyo State and upgraded its Zaria factory to produce 7,200 sticks per minute, the smoking rate among youths also assumed a frightening dimension.

In 1994, seven years before the commissioning of the Ibadan Plant, the smoking rate among youths was four per cent. The publicity blitz and deceptive marketing that followed the commissioning pushed the figures to 18.1 per cent among the age groups 13-15 years by the end of 2002.

Unfortunately, like most cancer patients dying gradually in the hospitals today, the unsuspecting youth will come to know years from now when they develop terminal ailments, that their future had been mortgaged by the organizers of the smoking parties.

We can easily dismember tobacco lobbyists’ position on the need to save the tobacco companies litigation and subsequent closing of shop in other to save the contentious 300,000 dependants of the alleged 2,500 tobacco industry staff that will be thrown into the unemployment market if the companies eventually does pack up.

One even wonders how those figures where manufactured when BATN recently revealed that less than a thousand Nigerians are in its direct employ because of the fully automated nature of the Ibadan plant. The thousands of tobacco farmers that may have been conscripted into the list of threatened workforce as Nigerians have come to know, are poor farmers who are only victims of a monopolistic company that has condemned them to irredeemable poverty.

Today, BAT is sole buyer of the farmers’ leaves, dictates ridiculous prices and supplies them fertilizers like a child tied to the umbilical cord of a mother. But unlike the later, this union is a torturously life-long.

Be that as it may, the fictitious 302,500 people can still not equate the many more thousands that die annually from cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses and many more that will die.
It will make more sense for tobacco lobbyists concentrate on getting their benefactor to diversify into other areas of agriculture that its foundation claims success in improving instead of the waste of newspaper space.

The National Tobacco Control Bill is an idea whose time has come and the Senate’s decision to fast-track the process of translating it into law is a fresh breath away from the stagnation and deliberate hurdles thrown the way of the multi-billion naira suits by the tobacco giants.

The patriotism of the honorable members of the House in standing for the rights of Nigerians to a poison-free air is commendable. Mamora and his team will have their names written in gold in the annals of this nation.