NASS And Rising Hope On Tobacco Regulations
The promise by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara that the 8th National Assembly will speedily adopt the draft National Tobacco Control Regulations communicated to it in December 2018 by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is commendable and should be actualized as a parting gift to Nigerians.
Dogara who made the pledge at a recent Interactive Session on the National Tobacco Control Regulation organised by the House Committee on Delegated Legislation in Abuja, said that the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, has widened the areas where tobacco smoking is prohibited in Nigeria in furtherance of the right of every person to a clean and healthy environment and protection from exposure to second-hand smoke.
The lawmaker quoted a recent report by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) which estimated that the Nigerian government spends as much as $591 million (five hundred and ninety-one million dollars) yearly on treatment of patients suffering from tobacco-induced diseases to justify the need for prompt action.
For the public health community nothing could be more reassuring than this pledge at a time that public confidence in the Parliamentary approval for the Regulation seems to be waning. The National Assembly had indeed been quiet on the Regulations since 2018 when the FEC communicated the draft document to it for consideration.
The euphoria that has greeted this news notwithstanding, Nigerians do not want a flat regulation that does not address the crucial recommendations of the World Health Organisation – Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WH0-FCTC) as captured in the NTC Act.
This is why the work of the Hon. Simon Arabo-led committee on delegated legislation on the tobacco control regulation must be commended for seeking the input of civil society and other stakeholders to ensure the regulations reflect popular yearnings.
On its part, the Federal Ministry of Health being the custodian of the health of Nigerians has carefully crafted the draft regulations in consultation with other stakeholders to ensure that it is of the same standard as is obtained in other parts of the world.
One of the draft regulations requires that tobacco product manufacturers, importers or distributors submit a report to the Federal Minister of Health at the end of every calendar year, and not later than at the end of the first quarter of the succeeding calendar year, stating among other things the quantity of tobacco products produced; quantities exported from Nigeria and their audited annual statement of account.
This requirement, the Ministry believes, is in tandem with recommendations of the WHO FCTC that Parties institute record-keeping mechanisms as part of strategies to monitor tobacco use and prevention policies. For a nation like Nigeria already inundated with unregistered tobacco products that are openly sold in the open market, no less a recommendation is required.
On cigarette packs, the Ministry wants the age-long text warning which says ‘The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young’ to be replaced with a combination of text and graphic pictorial health warning messages. These messages are to be printed on 80% of the principal display surfaces of all tobacco product packages, as is practiced in other nations that have equally signed, ratified and are now implementing the WHO-FCTC to the letter.
India and China for instance, apply 85% combination of text and graphic pictorial health warning messages on their tobacco packages. African countries like the Gambia apply 75% of text and graphic pictorial health warning messages on their tobacco packages. Cameroon, Chad, and Senegal apply 70% each. The aim of this is to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, eliminate the effects of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising and promotion, and increase the notice-ability and effectiveness of health warnings, among others. Tobacco products will also not contain any other text, images, symbols, colours, signs, or other contents, including any trademarks or brand imaging, in whole or part.
To ensure that the nation’s tobacco control policies are insulated from the tobacco industry meddling, the Regulations reinforce the fact that infiltration of tobacco control by any entity with conflict of interest will jeopardize the goals of the public health policy and sets the basic standard for public officials engaging with tobacco entities.
For violation of the law there are financial penalties also. Section 37 of the Act states that property forfeited to the State shall be channeled into a Tobacco Control Fund (TCF) established. Examples of countries that are implementing such measure are Botswana, Egypt, Iceland, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Romania, and Thailand.
With the far-reaching nature of the draft Regulations on public health, it is not out of place to express fears that the tobacco industry might throw spanner in the wheel of its progress. Their aversion to licensing of tobacco products in the country and graphic health warnings the size that the Health ministry is proposing might just be snippets of what they may be cooking up to possibly derail the approval of the regulations as the June 2019 expiration of the 8th National Assembly nears.
If that should happen, God forbid, the entire process of getting the FEC to approve the draft put together by the Health Ministry will start all over again and possibly take another four years to reach the point we currently find ourselves.
There are no better words that capture the moment as what is credited to the Minister of State for Health, Professor Osagie Ehanire in the Health ministry’s memorandum to the House Committee that, It is clearly better and cheaper to prevent tobacco-linked diseases than to cure them. This is what the approval of the Regulations mean and this is what Nigerians demand of the 8th National Assembly.
Achike wrote in from Minna