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Senate Health Committee Assures on Balanced Tobacco Legislation

By on November 2, 2014

If Environmental Rights Action (ERA), one of the anti-tobacco advocacy groups, hoped to convince the senate committee on health to adopt stringent measures against tobacco industry with its submissions at the just concluded public hearing on National Tobacco Control Bill, they got more than they bargained for. Rather than convincing the members of the committee headed by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, head of the Lagos office of ERA only succeeded in raising doubts as to motives and credibility of his organisation which elicited a demand for concrete evidence to substantiate their claims against the tobacco industry and also to substantiate whether his agency was registered.

Though Oluwafemi promised to provide proof and affirmed that his agency was registered but if Thisday findings at the Lagos office of Corporate Affairs Commission, earlier in the year is anything to go by, then Oluwafemi needs more than verbal affirmation to prove the legality of his agency. When our correspondent made several attempts to reach Oluwafemi over the matter and some other issues bordering on their activities earlier in the year, he tactically avoided all our scheduled meetings. ERA could not also provide evidence to support similar claims made during this year’s edition of the WHOs No Smoking Day held in June at their Ogba, Lagos office. However Oluwafemi admitted avoiding our correspondent when she met him at the senate building soon after the Senate Committee public hearing. Why won’t I dodge you when I know why you wanted to see me? He responded to our reporter’s question.
Declaring the public hearing open, the Senate president, David Mark enjoined stakeholders to make gainful contributions towards enriching the bill to help the Health Committee arrive at more informed conclusive decision. Mark who was represented at the occasion by Senate Committee Chairman on Finance, Ahmed Markarfi, blamed the negative effect of tobacco and tobacco products in the country on illegal production, distribution and advertising of the product.

Mark said the role of Nigerian Customs, judicial system and relevant health agencies was critical for effective and sustained implementation of tobacco regulation act when enacted in to law.
“As a member of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) that adopted the treaty on tobacco control, the Nigerian government and the national assembly have to live up to this mandate by ensuring that adverse effects and burden of tobacco and tobacco products on our public health system is sustainably controlled,” said Mark.
The bill is for an Act seeking to repeal the Tobacco Control Act 1990 CAP 16 laws of the Federal Republic and to enact the National Tobacco Control Bill 2012 to provide for the regulation and control of production, manufacturing, sale, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco and tobacco products in Nigeria and for other related matters.

Freddy Messanvi, Director, Corporate And Regulatory Affairs, British American Tobacco West Africa said at the hearing that only a balanced tobacco legislation would drive the attainment of the aims and objectives of the bill. According to him “a bill that will not make matters worse but will be workable, based on fact and evidence while achieving the aims for which it was set should be the focus as these bills are now being considered. A legitimate tobacco industry that is well regulated has more benefits than one that is left in the hands of smugglers who are faceless and who have little or no stake in the country.”
He maintained that a stringent legislation that would cripple legitimate tobacco business in the country would only lead to handing over the business to underground illegal operators who would be very difficult to regulate thereby defeating the primary purpose the bill was meant to achieve.

“We are unabashedly protective of the industry because it is not only about the cigarettes that we see, but also about economic development engendered by legitimate businesses such as BATN and its entire industry chain which includes farmers, retailers, among others,” he said.  Very stringent regulations will make production in Nigeria unattractive. Although demand of cigarettes will not abate, this will however be met by the illegal sources and more importation of cigarettes.
Messanvi, said such development would pose grave consequences on tobacco products quality, reduce government revenue as well as increase the rate of smuggling with its attendant negative impact on health and employment.
Earlier, the Senate Committee Chairman on Health and sponsor of the bill, Ifeanyi Okowa assured that the tobacco bill was not targeted at stifling the tobacco industry in Nigeria but to ensure the rights of all stakeholders were not violated. The assurance came after he had shot down a number of submissions that did not support the killing of the tobacco industry. He further assured that the committee would work round the clock to ensure speedy conclusion and passage of the bill.

Other submissions were from Oyo State Ministry of Justice that enumerated the contributions of the tobacco industry towards the economic growth and development of the state, adding that stringent legislation would impact adversely on the state that will bear direct burden of unemployment should the business be stifled.
Consumer Protection Council (CPC) while throwing its weight behind the bill, disagreed with the provision that the tobacco industry would not be involved in Corporate Social Responsibility activities.

They observed that FCTC did not prohibit CSR activities but rather that all stakeholders were informed and aware of the purpose and scope of the CSR activities. It also suggested a need for clear cut provision of designated smoking areas in line with global practice.
African Liberty.Org Director of Outreach, Mr. Adedayo Thomas suggested that the bill must seek to protect the rights of adult tobacco smokers who have made a choice to smoke despite the knowledge of health implications of tobacco products in addition to making provision for designated smoking areas in a manner that would guarantee the rights of all concerned are not violated.
On the total ban on communication or advertising by tobacco industry, Thomas argued that such would have dire consequences and promote the sale of adulterated alternatives as legal producers would find it difficult to inform retailers about genuine products.
Other areas which attracted comments from the stakeholders include over-regulation and vesting undue powers on the ministry of health, lack of display of products which they argue amounts to killing of the industry by installment among other related issues.


[This Day]