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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Anti-tobacco bill is still alive'

By Michael Orie and Wole Oyebade

ANTI-TOBACCO activists, under the aegis of Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), have debunked the purported 'death' of the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) at the National Assembly, insisting that the bill was still under consideration before the Senate Committee on Health.
Their reaction came in the wake of Senator Kamaldeen Adedibu's insinuation to the effect that the bill, which has passed the public hearing stage, "is dead."
At a media briefing in Lagos yesterday, Programme Manager, ERA, Oluwafemi Akinbode, said: "Contrary to the lies and deception of the statements credited to the senator, the NTCB bill is not dead. The bill scaled through the second reading in the Senate in February 2009 and at that reading, all the senators present and who spoke at the plenary expressed strong support for the bill.
"Indeed, Senate President David Mark, while referring the bill to the Committee on Health, enjoined the members to expedite action on it because of the intense lobbying power of the tobacco industry, which seeks to derail the enactment of law that would protect the lives of Nigerians and also curtail the industry's criminal activities."
ERA described Adedibu's comments as "inflammatory, albeit deceitful, reckless, misleading and totally false."
The National Tobacco Control Bill 2009, sponsored by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (Lagos East), seeks to provide the regulation or control of production, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco or tobacco products in Nigeria and other related matters.
The bill also seeks to prohibit sale of cigarette to persons under 18; sale of tobacco products through vending machines; and sale of cigarette in single sticks;
It also seeks to prohibit all forms of tobacco advertisement, sponsorship and promotion, endorsements or testimonials, sale promotions; and smoking in public places, among others.
Akinbode also disclosed that a two-day public hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Health headed by Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello on July 20 to 21, 2009, with the Federal Ministry of Health leading government agencies to lend support for the bill.
His words: "In all, over 40 Non-Government Organizations (NGO) presented memoranda supporting the bill and asking for its speedy passage. Besides, there were words of commendation and support for the bill from five International NGOs; Campaign for Tobacco Free kids (CTFK), Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), Corporate Accountability International (CAI), African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) and the African Tobacco Control Regional Initiative (ATCRI).
"Besides the tobacco Industry, only Senator Adedibu, who represents the Oyo South Federal Constituency, expressed his opposition, hinging his reason on loss of jobs and vowing to oppose the bill even if that would be the only thing he would do in the Senate.
"The committee has not presented the bill to the plenary and we know for a fact that there was supposed to be a retreat on the result of the public hearing but for the recent political developments in the country. Therefore the bill has not been voted on by the Senate plenary, how then did it die?"
African regional coordinator, Framework Convention Alliance, Adeola Akinremi, disclosed that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that tobacco kills 5.4 million people every year and if current trend continues, it would kill more than eight million people.
In 2006, from a survey carried out in 11 Lagos State government-owned hospitals, it was discovered that at least two persons die each day from a tobacco-related disease. Also in one single year, about 10 000 cases of tobacco-disease was recorded in Lagos.
Akinremi said: "All we need to do is extrapolate that figure all over the country and we will have an idea of the epidemic we are dealing with.
"ERA/FoEN wishes to condemn in its totality the activities of Senator Adedibu. We demand that he immediately cease from making such statements and ask the Senate leadership to investigate his allegations.
"However, while we still have trust in the Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello-led committee, we are constrained to be apprehensive about the long delay in presenting the bill at plenary. This is the time to complete work on this public health bill. This is the only way to show the world that the committee has not been compromised by the tobacco industry as Senator Adedibu has insinuated.
"Nigerians are dying by the seconds due to tobacco addition while tobacco manufacturers smile to the banks. Every delay is more deaths, more ill-health."