By Mashe Umaru Gwamna
The Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) and the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) have hailed the Federal Government for the gazette of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Regulations 2019.
The gazette of the NTC Regulations 2019 by the Federal Ministry of Health is the final step that gives teeth to the law eight months after it was approved by the Eighth National Assembly on the conclusion of harmonization of the Senate and House of Representatives versions by a Conference Committee set up for the purpose.
Among the key provisions of the Regulations is the introduction of health warnings in cigarette packs that must constitute 50% of the principal display area and will be increased to 60% in another four years. Tobacco manufacturers/importers/distributors must also submit a yearly report to the Health minister detailing quantity of tobacco products produced, audited annual statement of accounts, quantities of tobacco imported into or exported from Nigeria, and offers or payments made to political parties or candidates, among others.
It also prohibits the participation of tobacco industry employees as delegate in Conference of Parties of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control meetings owing to tons of reports that show that industry delegates infiltrate the talks to steer discussions from concrete decisions that regulate tobacco business.
Enforcers of the law include the Nigeria Police officers, public health officers, National Security and Civil Defence Corps officers, Customs officers, and Environmental Health officers of the Federal Capital Territory and each state of the federation, among others.
NTCA and ERA/FoEN, in a statement issued in Lagos, welcomed the gazette, declaring that “though it took long in coming, it was the right step in the right direction”
ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said:
“This development is welcome. Now that a comprehensive legal framework for effective implementation of the NTC Act 2015 has been put in place, we anticipate enforcement will commence to keep the prowling tobacco industry in check”
Oluwafemi pointed out that the era of impunity by the tobacco industry is nearing its end, even as he charged agencies of government responsible for enforcement of the NTC Act and the Regulations to work collaboratively to ensure that the wellbeing of Nigerians are no longer jeopardized in their quest for illicit profits.
National Coordinator of the NTCA, Oluseun Esan said:
“This indeed is good news and a most welcome gift to Nigerians. We commend the Federal Ministries of Health and Justice for their roles in making the gazette happen and seize the opportunity to ask the enforcing agencies to hit the ground running because every minute counts”
Esan noted that “in the last seven months of our waiting for the gazette the tobacco industry has been running loose, conscripting more youths and has become emboldened in their tactics. Now the government and the average Nigerian can checkmate them with the enforcement of the letters of the law”
The groups said that post-gazette the lack of funding for tobacco control might be exploited by the tobacco industry to continue business-as-usual hence next step the federal government must take is to inaugurate the Tobacco Control Fund as recommended by the NTC Act 2015 in Part 3, Section 8 (1) as a mechanism for funding tobacco control.
“Knowing how the industry works, we can say it is not yet uhuru until tobacco control funding is put in place either through the national budget or some form of subventions. But this is a good start”, they insisted.