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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Tobacco Control Bill

RECENTLY, the Senate passed, to replace the Tobacco Smoking Control Act (1990), the Tobacco Control Bill that has been inching its way through the legislative process for more than two years.  This  legislation provides for, among other  things, a ban  on  tobacco advertising, sponsorship  and promotion,  forbids the sale of cigarette to persons  below age 18, bans  smoking in public places, and regulates the  manufacture, distribution  and marketing of  tobacco products in  Nigeria.

The passage of this bill is  certainly a vote in favour of  public health  for it is common knowledge today that  tobacco  consumption,  be it  by smoking, chewing, or snuffing, is  injurious one way or other, to the health of the  direct consumer, and, in the particular case of smoking, the health of  other persons nearby (that is second-hand  consumers). Besides,  the enactment of  a Tobacco Control law is, not only consistent with the modern trend of health consciousness  across the globe, it is also in line with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty developed  to arrest the  growing use of tobacco and its attendant threat to public health around the world. It has been in force since early 2005 and it must be noted, Nigeria is a signatory to it.

The case for a strong legislation against tobacco use is indeed compelling not the least because it is harmful to health. It has been conclusively proven that tobacco use has direct causative relation to respiratory and heart diseases, and emphysema, a type of lung disease in the case of smoking, mouth and gum diseases in the case of chewing, and nose and related diseases in the case of snuffing. The addictive nature of tobacco use also fosters substance dependence.  Some records state that nearly five million people die every year of tobacco-linked diseases. Indirectly, second hand smoking endangers the health of non-smokers who must suffer the offensive effect of cigarette smoke in the environment and violates their fundamental right.

Time there was when smoking was fashionable and considered a ‘class thing’ such that to use tobacco whichever way was considered a sign of maturity. Indeed, a smoking aficionado would dedicate special ‘smoking rooms’ equipped with diverse paraphernalia – water pipes, lighters,  spittoons, ash trays, even smoking jackets,  smoking hats and slippers –  all designed to heighten the pleasure of the pastime.

Nevertheless, over the centuries, the negative effects of this ‘pastime’ have also for long been acknowledged, condemned, and legislated against by both spiritual and secular authorities.  In 1590, Pope Urban VII issued a papal bull against the use of tobacco “in the porch-way of, or inside the church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose”.  King James I of England, in 1604, wrote in ‘A Counterblast to Tobacco’ a stinging – and perceptive – criticism of the habit of tobacco use describing it as “a custome loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”.

Elsewhere, in the Ottoman empire,  Sultan Murad IV who ruled  1623- 1640  decreed smoking as a capital offence while in old Russia,  anyone caught smoking had his nose cut off. Obviously then anti-tobacco use sentiment is not a recent development. Unfortunately, in modern times, the tobacco industry has amassed a hefty war chest with which, for long and until recently, it lobbied  the powers that be in favour of its business.  But, under pressure in the increasingly health-conscious developed countries, it has shifted business and lobby to developing countries such as Nigeria.

Since 1999, the industry has enlarged its presence and operations in our country, complete with an effective marketing strategy and well-oiled public relations machinery that working hand in glove with government, plays up the benefits of job creation and economic contributions to the nation as worthwhile values added to Nigeria and its people.  But these justifications are of lesser value compared to the immense short and long-term costs to human and environmental health. It is gratifying that the Tobacco Control Bill is in its final stage despite the odds. However, how does government square the circle of allowing the tobacco industry to continue in business in the face of the coming law?

We would think that a nation of healthy citizens is of greater value to Nigeria than capital. We urge government to stand firm for the public good by enforcing the spirit and letter of this  pro-health legislation. We also suggest a steep ‘sin tax’ on tobacco  to make the habit increasingly too expensive to sustain. Such  revenue in turn should be spent to  run medical facilities  that treat  tobacco-generated  diseases.

More effort should also be devoted to public enlightenment campaigns on the risks of tobacco use.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Imperatives for a smoke free Nigeria

On March 15, 2011, the Senate had in a unanimous vote passed the National Tobacco Control bill which was sponsored by Senator Olorunimbe Mamora representing Lagos East Senatorial District. By this act, it is now a punishable offence to engaged in smoking in public places. The current bill is a comprehensive law providing for regulations of supply and demand measures of tobacco products. The bill was presented on the floor of the senate for second reading in February 2009 and a public hearing was conducted in July 2009 before its eventual passage. The National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) repeals the Tobacco Control smoking Act of 1990, which was promulgated under the military and championed by former Health Minister, late Olikoye Ransome Kuti.
Nigerians have waited patiently, for our constitutional and God given rights for a smoke free environment and protection of the weak and venerable in the society against second hand smoke, which the National Tobacco Control Bill is set to enforce. The Nigeria Senate has risen to protect public health and etched its name in gold under the leadership of Senator David Mark for passing the National tobacco control bill. The bill will ensure a reversal of increasing deaths.
The need to protect the non smoking public from the dangers associated with cigarette smoking makes it necessary for the enforcement of the ban of smoking in public places. There is overwhelming medical evidence that shows exposure to second hand smoke can cause diseases and death. Second hand smoking is a combination of the smoke which a smoker exhales and the one that comes out of the burning end of a cigarette.
Also known as the Environmental Tobacco Smoke (EST), it is a mixture of about 4,000 cancer causing chemicals that are extremely harmful to the body. It has been established that for every eight smokers who die, one innocent bystander also dies from second hand smoke and if one is exposed to second hand smoke for about 2 hours, then the person must have smoked an equivalent of four cigarettes. Second hand smoke is as deadly as the real tobacco smoke.
But we should not rest on our oars after this victory. This is just the beginning of the campaign for a totally smoke free Nigeria and the defense of the constitutional and God given rights to live in a safe environment. Massive media enlightenment campaign to inform residents about the enforcement of the provisions of this bill should begin now. Also, there is need to educate the Nigeria police to monitor compliance with the ban. But the greatest responsibility is on every resident of Nigeria to make sure that the law is strictly adhered to. To ensure our nation is completely smoke free, we must jointly monitor the implementation of the ban on smoking in public places.
A smoke free Nigeria will put public health above profits made from selling cigarettes. It will reduce the rate of smoking especially among the young and underage people. Smoke free public places will even make the environment clean and residents can breathe safe air. It will also help towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), of having poverty halved by 2015, because money spent on tobacco product will be help provide food and shelters for families.
The bill is also an affirmation of commitment of Nigeria to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It is an international tobacco control treaty developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The treaty was built on the evidence from different country experiences which formed the recommendations in developing the FCTC. It requires all ratifying countries to adopt effectives smoke free policies. The FCTC has been ratified by over 150 countries including Nigeria.
Article 8 clearly states that "Each part shall adopt and implement in area of existing national jurisdiction as determined by national law and actively promote the adoption and implementation of effective legislative, executive, administration and/ or other measures providing for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and as appropriate, other public places"
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of second hand smoke. Second hand smoke is a proven health hazard, not just a nuisance. Nigeria should go smoke free.

-Owoeye Akinsola