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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Battling tobacco trading

  • ERA/FoEN wants tobacco bill signed

THE National Tobacco Control Bill, passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011, and concurred by the Lower House on May 31, 2011 (World No Tobacco Day), which in July, 2009, had its   public hearing conducted by the senate and attracted more than 40 civil society groups, including groups from the tobacco industry who were against the bill; still awaits the assent of the president. However, the bill takes a forefront in improving the health of the general public. The bill which repeals the Tobacco (Control) Act 1990 CAP. T16 Laws of the Federation is aimed at domesticating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The keys highlights of the bill are prohibition of smoking in public places; to include restaurant and bar, public transportation, schools, hospitals etc. A ban on all forms of direct and indirect advertising, prohibition of sales of cigarette 1000-meter radius of areas designated as non-smoking, mass awareness about the danger of smoking as well as the formation of committee that will guide government on the issue of tobacco control in the country.

It prohibits all forms of tobacco advertisement, sponsorships and promotions, endorsements or testimonials, sales promotions. Prohibition of the sale of tobacco products 1,000 meter radius places designated as non smoking and empowers government to use litigation to recoup liabilities related to tobacco consumption. 

Spreading Tobacco scourge
Even as tobacco death toll soars beyond 6 million, big tobacco industries have stepped up its efforts to prevent tobacco control laws from taking effect. Highly visible examples include lawsuits by Phillip Morris International and its competitors against countries like Austrialia, Norway and Uruguay for implementing strong tobacco control laws.

“Big Tobacco is very publicly bullying countries in hopes they will cave, their neighbours will cave, and treaty implementation will cave,” said Kelle Louaillier, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability International.

World Health Assembly resolution on transparency in tobacco control process, citing the findings of the Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents, states that “the tobacco industry has operated for years with the express intention of subverting the role of governments and WHO in implementing public health policies to combat the tobacco epidemic.”

For example, in an attempt to halt the adoption of pictorial health warnings on packages of tobacco, the industry recently adopted the novel tactic of suing countries under bilateral investment treaties, claiming that the warnings impinge the companies' attempts to use their legally-registered brands.

Meanwhile, the industry's attempts to undermine the treaty continue on other fronts, particularly with regard to countries' attempts to ban smoking in enclosed public places and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.  Tobacco advertising and promotions are everywhere. 

Despite the ban on smoking in public places, there are still promotions of cigarette smoking in clubs, parties, rural areas and sharing of gifts.  

For instance, the British American Tobacco of Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) aimed at  improving the quality of life of citizens in rural and urban areas of Nigeria through sustainable poverty alleviation, agricultural development,  potable water, environmental protection and vocational skills acquisition  are ways to get into the heart of the masses which will inturn promote cigarette smoking. 

BAT is also involved with sport sponsoring, especially football which is popular in Nigeria. FIFA's decision to prohibit tobacco ads in sports grounds and on the players shirts was only for the World cup. 

However, an odd thing is the simultaneous presence of advertising for Marlboro while nobody holds a distributing license for Marlboro in Nigeria.   

The Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) states that Tobacco industry interference is to weaken law to ensure they never get enacted and to undermine those laws.

“Even though the law didn't specify the public places but they have been moving around to kiosks, hotels, advertise with sharing umbrellas, commissioning of borehole. Tobacco company should be held responsible for both the environmental, economic, health and social cost,” said Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration.

He referred to the Tobacco companies humanitarian gestures as being against the health of the ublic. “These gestures are not strictly humanitarian gestures; most companies act for the benefit of mankind but Tobacco Company is acting against the benefit of mankind.”
He also revealed that, “Tobacco companies don't pay taxes, they actually rake the taxes from smokers. So, when they pay N1billion tax,  it means that they have sold close toN100 billion cigarettes.”

Director, People against Drug Dependence and Ignorance, Mr.Eze Eluchie adds “One of BAT's most recent and successful promotion is named Experience Hollywood: they organize film showings and with your ticket you are given a pack of cigarettes. I tried to attend one  such event with a camera but they refused to let me in with the camera.” 

Health threats
Tobacco use most commonly leads to diseases affecting the heart, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer, particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer. Overall life expectancy is also reduced in regular smokers, with estimates ranging from 10_17.9 years fewer than nonsmokers.

Eluchi said 13,700 people die as a result of cigarette having 35% aid of cancer and approximately 5 million people die of cigarette everyday.

The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are people exposed to second-hand smoke and may kill up to 8 million people by 2030 if nothing drastic is done, of which more than 80per cent live in low- and middle-income countries.

Among male smokers, the lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is 17.2per cent; among female smokers, the risk is 11.6per cent. This risk is significantly lower in nonsmokers: 1.3per cent in men and 1.4per cent in women. 

The WHO/FCTC on tobacco control is to raise awareness about the addictives and harmful nature of tobacco products and industry interference with Parties' tobacco policies. Establish measures to limit interactions with the tobacco products and transparency of those interactions that occur and require information provided by the tobacco industry be transparent and accurate.

Oluwafemi urged prioritizing the health of the people above the commercial investment interests of the tobacco industry. “We want the presidency to hearken to the call from the global and local communities. He has the window of signing because the constitution is clear. The world is watching. We've not confirmed from the president if he has received the bill and no information yet if he is not going to sign for public health, nothing is too much.”