Tobacco Control in Nigeria: Can the proposed Smoking Act Work?

Tobacco Control in Nigeria: Can the proposed Smoking Act Work?
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

For the control of any crime or legal but injurious act, there must be a law. That law must have specific elements, including but not limited to:
(a) implementability
(b) enforceability and
(c) serves as deterrent to offenders

Tobacco smoking is a long time habit for many Nigerians in sections of the country. The act attracts people of all shades and ages, with the youths seeing it as a fashionable habit to delve in.

According to TobaccoAtlas, nearly 20 percent of the world’s adult population smokes cigarettes. It is further estimated that in 2009, smokers consumed nearly 5.9 trillion cigarettes. This is the most recent available data.

In the Middle East and Africa, Tobacco consumption between 1990 and 2009 increased
by 57 percent. This is an alarming figure, especially where global health concerns are growing by the day.

On the basis of this, a Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products known as “WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was drawn. Nigeria became one of the 168 signatories to the Protocol on June 28, 2004 and was ratified on October 20, 2005.

In order to domesticate the WHO FCTC, Nigeria has began the process of promulgating the “Nigeria Smoking (Control) Act” as a comprehensive law to regulate the manufacturing, advertising, distribution and consumption of tobacco products in the country.

The Nigerian Senate passed the first reading of the bill to control the use of tobacco only on September 24, 2014.

In the proposed Act, the “Core demand reduction” as well as the “Core supply reduction” provisions in the WHO FCTC are contained in articles 15-17 and 6-14 of the bill, respectively.

While the core demand reduction provisions introduced prohibitive measures to down demand of the product, The core supply reduction provisions try to down the supply chain of the product.

The core demand reduction provisions are geared towards price and tax measures and non-price measures to reduce the demand for tobacco.

These provisions include: Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke; Regulation of the contents of tobacco products; Regulation of tobacco product disclosures; Packaging and labelling of tobacco products; Education, communication, training and public awareness; Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and Demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation.

On the other hand, the core supply reduction provisions are: Illicit trade in tobacco products; Sales to and by minors; and Provision of support for economically viable alternative activities.
 
In spite of the fact that Nigerian economy loses about $591 million annually as cost of medical treatment and low productivity resulting from tobacco smoking, the proposed law provides as punishment for smoking at prohibited places “Any person who smokes tobacco contrary to the provisions of this Act shall be guilty
of an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N200 (less than $2.00) and not exceeding N1,000 (approximately $6.00) or to imprisonment to a term of not less than one month and not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

The penalties as enshrined in the proposed law does not suggest deterrence. The minimal fine of $2.00 or maximal of $6.00 is infinitesimally low and cannot stop smokers from the act or manufacturers from advertising the product.

The proposed law stipulates a fine of a paltry N5,000.00 ($30) for wrongful advertising. “Any person who advertises, sells or offers for sale any tobacco product otherwise than in compliance with the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine of not less than N5,OOO.”

We are talking about a product, which is the only legally available product that kills more than half of its users when consumed as intended by the manufacturer.

“Scientists evidence shows that tobacco is a major threat to public health. It currently kills about six million people a year and if current trend continues that figure will rise to 10 million a year by 2015,” said Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Director of Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth (ERA.

“Real statistics shows that the cost of tobacco smoking to the Nigerian economy in terms of losses to medical treatment and low productivity is at US$591 million annually,” Oluwafemi said.

The proposed Act should have more prohibitive provisions, including those that would protect the rights of non-smokers.

The fines in the proposed Act will not work if we are to achieve the “Core Demand and Supply Reductions.” Prohibitive fines should be introduced in order to discourage smoking among the people.

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