…says ILO should sever ties with tobacco industry
By Mashe Umaru Gwamna
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has commended the Federal Government over the increase of excise duty on tobacco products in the newly-announced approved amendment of excise duty rates which also affects alcohol.
Under the new dispensation, in addition to the existing 20 per cent ad-valorem rate, each stick of cigarette will attract N1 specific rate (N20 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2018, N2 specific rate per stick (N40 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2019 and N2.90k specific rate per stick (N58 per pack of 20 sticks) in 2020.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said the approval was given by President Muhammadu Buhari, and would take effect from Monday, June 4, 2018 after a 90-day (three months) grace period to all local manufacturers before the commencement of the new excise duty regime.
The Finance Minister said the review of the excise duty rates for tobacco and alcohol was necessitated by the need to raise the government’s fiscal revenues and reduce the health hazards associated with tobacco-related diseases and alcohol abuse.
When implemented Nigeria’s cumulative specific excise duty rate for tobacco is 23.2 per cent of the price of the most sold brand which is still lower than Algeria, South Africa and The Gambia that have 38.14 per cent, 36.52 per and 30 per cent respectively.
In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN described the decision to increase excise duty on tobacco as praise-worthy but urges the government to match the rates in Nigeria with that of other countries across Africa if the aims are to be achieved in record time.
ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: “We applaud the federal government for acceding to the popular wishes of Nigerians for tobacco products to be priced beyond the reach of our kids and the poor who are unfortunately targeted by the tobacco industry through their cheap but lethal products.”
Oluwafemi noted that while the rates are a good start, they still fall short of the more aggressive but very effective recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Article 6 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which is 70% excise on tobacco products.
He highlighted the fact that survey after survey, including the just-released Africa Tobacco Control Alliance Single Sticks Report and the Big Tobacco Tiny Targets Nigeria Report released last year, exposed the tobacco industry as targeting kids through the situation of points of sale near schools and other strategic locations they frequent to attract them to smoking.
“Considering the looming tobacco menace in Nigeria, it is necessary to take stringent measures to halt the deliberate marketing of tobacco products to kids. The new excise duty on tobacco products is a good start but the government can certainly do more.
“One more thing government can do is to recoup all previously unpaid taxes, tax waivers and tax grants that tobacco companies have illegally benefited under previous governments,” Oluwafemi insisted.
Meanwhile, The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has thrown its weight behind global calls for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to cut ties with Big Tobacco.
The group insists that the ILO engagements with Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation, a nonprofit funded by tobacco companies since 2002 reflects a conflict of interest in the United Nations (UN) system.
This call is coming as the governing body of the ILO meets this month to decide whether it would shutter one of the tobacco industry’s last-remaining avenues of interference in the UN, making it harder for it to weaken, delay and block live-saving public health and labour policies.
The vote comes two weeks after the Director-General, Michael Moller issued a report calling on the ILO governing body to end its public-partnerships with Big Tobacco. The Director-General’s report comes on the heels of over 150 public health and labour leaders calling on the ILO to cut ties with the deadly industry and as the Secretariat of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) is demanding the ILO sever ties.
“ILO and Big Tobacco’s split is long past-due: The ILO must join other U.N. agencies in casting this deadly industry out for good,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN). “Big Tobacco has no place in any U.N. space. This month, the ILO has the opportunity to stand on the right side of history and show Big Tobacco the door.”
To date, the ILO has received more than US$15 million from tobacco corporations for joint programs, including more than US$10 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) for an effort to curb child labor in tobacco farming. The Director-General’s report finds, however, that the focused initiatives do little to curb child labor in tobacco fields because they do not shift the tobacco industry-driven cycle of poverty for tobacco farmers that forces children into the fields.
The tobacco industry commonly promotes programs like these to boost its public image and maintain influence in policymaking spaces. In the same vein as JTI’s effort, Philip Morris International recently launched a Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, to which it will give nearly $1 billion over the next decade.
“The ILO is one of the last avenues of Big Tobacco’s influence into the U.N.,” said Jaime Arcila, Latin America organizer with Corporate Accountability’s tobacco campaign. “It’s high time the ILO recognize the harms Big Tobacco poses to public health, workers and the environment and end its partnerships with the industry.”
Despite Big Tobacco’s abusive labor practices and its membership violating a core tenet of the Global Tobacco Treaty, its influence still runs deep in the ILO: In November 2017, the Governing Body failed to come to a decision on whether or not to end its private-public partnerships with tobacco corporations.
In Nigeria just as elsewhere, the tobacco industry has been identified with monopolistic practices that have made farmers go the extra mile to meet their demands, including forcing their kids as young as five years of age to work 24/7 on tobacco farms.
Also, British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) is yet to wriggle from anti-labour practices leveled against it by some ex-workers, some of whom now have debilitating illnesses due to poor factory conditions and exposure to tobacco dust.
Head, Media & Campaigns
Environmental Rights Action