How Low Budgetary Allocation for Tobacco Control will Worsen Public Health Issues

How Low Budgetary Allocation for Tobacco Control will Worsen Public Health Issues

The 2023 Appropriation Act has witnessed an innovative budgetary allocation for tobacco control, with an allocation of 4.7 million Naira, out of the overall 21.83 trillion Naira budget, to enforce tobacco control in Nigeria.

The allocation is the first after two years since the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act 2015 was gazetted, which made provision for adequate funding of the activities of the National Tobacco Control Committee (NTCC).

While civil society actors have applauded the Federal Government for earmarking a line item in the 2023 budget for tobacco control, they think it is grossly insufficient to genuinely implement different enforcement activities that would help with tobacco control in Nigeria.

What and why tobacco control fund?

Section 8 of the NTC Act (2015) provides that there shall be funding for the NTCC to enforce compliance with the provisions of the Act, and such fund shall consist of monies from the budgetary allocation, subventions from the government, and/or donations from organizations whose mandates do not conflict with the provisions of the Act.

With the fund, the NTCC and other Ministries/agencies responsible for the enforcement of the Act would be equipped to execute their mandate ranging from enforcing the prohibition of smoking in public places; to advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products; graphic and pictorial health warning signs; access to tobacco products for persons below the age of 18, etc.

Giving details about the importance of the fund, Philip Jakpor, the Programme Director at the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) told BONews that the NTC Act provides that a certain amount is set aside for the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Federal Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies to carry out tobacco control functions.

Jakpor noted that the agencies have been going about to ensure that tobacco companies comply with the graphic health warning signs as provided by the Act.

He added that “the budgetary allocation for tobacco control will address the needs of those agencies of government, so they don’t have to depend on international donors or local NGOs, and most importantly, the tobacco industry players.”

Speaking about the importance of the fund, Paul Ashibel, Communications Officer at the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) in an interview with BONews explained that the enforcement of the graphic health warning policy has proven positive over time, as it has encouraged people to quit smoking and discourages those who want to take up smoking.

Ashibel noted that the fund is extremely important to enable the responsible agencies to carry out enforcement exercises so that more results can be achieved.

He thereafter noted that “the tobacco industry players do not want the enforcement of the provisions of the NTC Act to thrive, because they are known to always want to circumvent the system to make maximum profit.”

To achieve the mandate that it has set out, it is important that the tobacco control fund does not include donations from the tobacco industry, as such would compromise the set goal of the fund, and ultimately, the provisions of the NTC Act.

A drop in the ocean 

The tobacco control fund in the 2023 budget is a result of several advocacies by civil society organizations working on tobacco control in Nigeria, a gesture that has been commended, yet regarded to be abysmally low.

Paul Ashibel lamented that the budgeted amount is extremely low to enforce different components of the NTC Act.

He noted that tobacco control is extremely important because tobacco use is a public health issue, adding that if there is adequate control of tobacco, there would be a reduction in the number of people who die annually from non-communicable diseases, largely caused by smoking.

“When this low budget is made for tobacco control, it is the people’s health that suffers,” he added.

Ashibel, who said “the tobacco control fund is also supposed to help tobacco farmers to transition to alternative crops, so they don’t lose their livelihood when they are told to stop cultivating tobacco”, asked that “how can the ministry of agriculture work collaboratively with the National Tobacco Control Committee and Federal Ministry of Health to ensure this happens?”

Michael Olaniyan, Technical Resource Officer for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) in WEST Africa also corroborated that the budgetary allocation is a far cry from what is expected, stressing that it is grossly insufficient for the volume of what is required to execute tobacco control functions.

“The NTC Act says the NTC committee must meet at least 4 times in a year, and convening that meeting alone will cost nothing less than 4 million Naira per meeting.

“This means the fund is not even sufficient for the ¼ of one component out of about 16 components of the tobacco control Act.

“If the committee cannot even meet, how would they strategise effectively and execute their mandate?” Olaniyan asked.

Jakpor also commended the 4.7 million Naira allocation, describing it as good news, but emphasised that “it will not adequately enable the government agencies to exercise their enforcement duties effectively and address the challenges they experience in carrying out their work.”

Not totally useless

Despite the low budgetary allocation to tobacco control in the 2023 budget, the fund can be well utilized to address what it has been set out to achieve, which would help to attract more allocation subsequently.

Jakpor explained that though there is a need to increase the tobacco control fund to a reasonable amount so that it can achieve the set purpose, the relevant agencies tasked with enforcement should effectively execute the budget that has been allocated to them already.

Highlighting the different components where the fund can be expended, Jakpor noted that the “implementing agencies may focus on awareness creation, training of staff on enforcement of the Act, engaging the media, or any other component as provided by the Act.

“They are free to determine how to expend the fund, but they should ensure it is used wisely.”

Olaniyan also urged “the players to ensure that the little that has been given is well utilized, to make a case for subsequent allocations.”

Going Forward

Olaniyan of CTFK recommended a two-pronged approach to tobacco control funding, basically increased budgetary allocation and increased taxation of tobacco companies.

Olaniyan said “there should be a substantial increase in the budgetary allocation. Maybe a 100 million Naira; because for every kobo that is invested in tobacco control, we will be saving a lot of lives and reducing what is being spent on healthcare.”

He also noted that “a more sustainable approach to tobacco control funding that has been successful in low and middle-income countries such as Nigeria is for the government to earmark a percentage of the tax on tobacco companies for tobacco control efforts.”

Ashibel of NTCA also emphasised the need for the review of tobacco control funding and that the government should exhibit genuine commitment towards it.

“The government must change its attitude and take the issues of tobacco control more seriously. Over 28000 people die annually from tobacco use, and it is essential the government understands that its primary responsibility is to deal with this,” Ashibel added.

Jakpor of CAPPA noted that the Ministries and relevant stakeholders would begin to source for funds internally, instead of relying on partnerships with tobacco companies.

“The tobacco companies would claim they are doing corporate social responsibility by donating funds, but rather, they are killing people gradually.

“The tobacco companies are known to compromise systems, the Ministries should not rely on them for funding, as it would be contraindicatory,” he added.

Source: BONEWS