By Lawrence Olaoye and Umar M. Puma
The House of Representatives yesterday clarified that the tobacco Bill it is currently considering only seeks to regulate the production, promotion, advertising and packaging of the product and not meant to entirely ban smoking in the country.
Chairman, House Committee on Health, Rep Ndudi Elumelu, made the clarification at the one day public hearing on eleven health related bills including the tobacco bill.
Co-chairman of the hearing and Chairman of the House Committee on Justice, Rep Ali Ahmed, in his remarks also said the Bill was not to ban tobacco smoking in the country, contrary to speculations in certain quarters.
According to Ahmed, the parliament lacked the power to ban tobacco smoking outright, but has the duty to protect the citizens, including children, who are likely to be exposed to the hazards of unregulated regime.
He said “Nigeria is lacking behind in the framework of tobacco regulation. About 10 million Nigerians are currently at risk.”
Stakeholders present at the hearing unanimously support the efforts to regulate tobacco smoking in the country, with a view to mitigating against its hazards on the people.
But some stakeholders, including Olusegun Sotola of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA), cautioned against excessive regulation which, according to him, could lead to negative unintended consequences which could create avenues for ‘black market’ in tobacco consumption and distribution.
The body also argued that passing the Bill as it is would infringe on the fundamental rights of smokers, as it could also affect the economic power of those citizens in the nation’s supply and demand chains of the product.