Tobacco Industry Interference: Nigeria Slips in 2023 Ratings
A new report on the state of the tobacco industry interference in Nigeria has revealed a marked increase in the industry’s meddling in public health policies, in particular, tobacco control measures. Sunday Ehigiator reports
Nigeria ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (WHO FCTC) Article 5.3 guidelines on 20 October 2005, and it entered into force on 18 January 2006.
Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act which was signed into law on 10 June 2015 covers several areas of tobacco control including regulation of smoking, the prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, regulation of tobacco products, content and product packaging, licensing and protection from tobacco industry interference, among others.
The 2023 report
The report titled Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2023, produced by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies through the Centre for Good Governance, released on Tuesday, in Lagos, showed, Nigeria’s ratings jumped from 53 in 2021 to 60 points in 2023.
According to the report, the main deterioration is manifest in the Nigerian government’s challenges and failure to adhere to transparency mechanisms, and disclosure of exchanges with the Industry as mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.
These breaches, it noted, are exploited maximally by the tobacco industry to interfere in public health policies and deliberations.
Other areas of concern
The report also flagged other areas of concern which include; the unnecessary and unhealthy interaction between the tobacco industry and public officials, mostly in the agriculture sector where top government officials have been documented in several instances, participating in the industry’s activities and openly lauding them.
It also revealed the tobacco industry’s use and loud celebration of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities in the media and on social platforms as a way of enhancing its image to attract unsuspecting individuals, thereby creating a perception of the industry and its products as responsible and desirable.
It says, these CSR initiatives are further promoted by the endorsement of state authorities, who associate and collaborate with the industry to execute socio-economic empowerment programs.
It also flagged the weak enforcement of preventive measures, including ambiguities in the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015 and its Regulations of 2019.
According to the report, “These challenges inadvertently allow the tobacco industry to operate without accountability in certain instances. For instance, while the NTCA mandates the tobacco industry to submit annual reports on tobacco and tobacco products, it also retains that the Minister may choose to either disclose or withhold this information from the public. This optional transparency makes it difficult for public health advocates to verify whether compliance is being enforced or not.”
Lastly, it flagged the industry’s continued participation in policy development in Nigeria such as its enjoyment of invitations from the government interagency bodies and agencies to meetings where classified resolutions on public health are reached.
To address these challenges, the report urged the Nigerian government to fully implement the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019, and also review ambiguities in the law so they do not provide revolving doors that the tobacco industry can exploit to interfere in public health and other policies of the government.
Additionally, the report also tasked state authorities to build intergovernmental synergy at all levels by establishing clear protocols for the full disclosures of minutes and proceedings from meetings and interactions with the tobacco industry.
To begin, it advised relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to consistently update their websites and other information platforms to facilitate the easy dissemination of information and engender transparency.
Speaking at the official launch of the report, CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said, “Whilst Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act and its Regulations have largely checked the activities of tobacco corporations and entities, the industry has exploited some weaknesses in these laws and gaps in the system to interfere in tobacco control.
“Our findings show that, despite existing policies, the government’s reluctance to fully disclose interactions with the tobacco industry continues to hinder progress in tobacco control efforts. These findings are also echoed in the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2023 where Nigeria is listed among seven countries, in which national boards were influenced by the industry to develop standards which laid the groundwork to legalize new tobacco and nicotine products.
“It is on this note that we once again express our firm rejection of the tobacco industry’s growing attempts and lobbying to market new products, including non-combustible alternatives like snus, chew, and dip, among others.
“Contrary to the industry’s narrative, these so-called ‘safer’ alternatives still contain harmful chemicals that pose significant health risks. Research by health scientists on emerging and newly identified health risks has shown that these products, often touted as safer, carry considerable health risks.
“They have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, increase the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, impair oral health, and pose risks to both mothers and their babies.
“To put it simply, tobacco kills, irrespective of the mode of consumption or the type of product marketed. If this is so, why then should people, particularly Nigerians, have to choose between various harmful products when we can avoid them altogether and save lives?
“We strongly urge the government, particularly the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), to act as a bulwark for the health of Nigerians, and discard any ideas or proposals to legitimize these products that will further corrupt and pose a significant threat to the public health of Nigerians.”
Additionally, CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer, Zikora Ibeh, noted that “The Nigerian government must work to ensure that public officials in relevant ministries, departments and agencies sign conflict-of-interest forms periodically to remind them of commitments or obligations that may compromise their office and operations.”
Source: This Day