Status of Tobacco Control in Nigeria

Nigeria is adjudged Africa’s largest economy. Aside its potentials in natural resources, Nigeria is a nation with huge human resources, boasting of a population of well over 150 million people. Most of the population are youths and therefore a major attraction for corporations targeting market expansion.

Tobacco transnationals such as British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI) are some of the competitors for this market share and have in the past decade engaged in a major scramble for the Nigerian market.

BAT Nigeria (BATN) which was the first to gain foothold in Nigeria through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government in 2001 constructed a $150 million manufacturing plant in Ibadan from where millions of tobacco sticks are manufactured. BATN is the controller of over 85 % of Nigeria’s tobacco market which it guards jealously as it feels the heat from its main competitor, PMI which is making a re-entry attempt into Nigeria after a decade-long lull.

PMI made its official re-entry into Nigeria in 2014 with the registering of a subsidiary PMI Nigeria Limited (PMINTL) and millions of cigarette imports subsequently that public health experts believe is illegal and a contravention of the NTC Act 2015. The imports are currently being investigated by the Nigerian government to ascertain if the company breached the NTC Act. With this controversial import, Nigeria has become the latest frontline of the supremacy battle for global expansion by the two tobacco giants.

The tobacco industry blitzkrieg on Nigeria is strewn with sundry underhand practices. There are documented cases of underhand marketing, promotional activities that public health professionals tagged “secret smoking parties” targeted at minors, undermining of government institutions and regulatory agencies, under the table dealings with policy makers and manipulative use of the media.

Since 2001 BATN has routinely resorted to Corporate Social Initiatives that involve top government functionaries just to give its harmful products extra mileage and plug any attempt at the regulation of the tobacco industry.

These practices escalated to distressing proportions as civil society groups intensified pressure on the Nigerian government in the run up to enactment of the NTC Act which was signed into law by former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on May 25, 2015.

Though the NTC Act has limitations such as the inclusion of Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs) in all outdoor public places, work places and on public transport, the law represents a big departure from the unregulated cigarette market which hitherto existed.

Hurdles still remain though. The inclusion of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) a group that BATN belongs (and PMI most certainly) to in the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) that will advise the Minister of Health as recommended in the NTC Act is one. Another is also the fact that the law relies on a set of regulations for its provisions to come to force. While activists continue working with the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure that those regulations are promptly approved by the National Assembly, they draw from examples of other climes where the tobacco industry tried to throw spanner in the works.

An example is Kenya where BAT attempted to derail a similar policy advancement with a claim that the Kenyan Ministry of Health violated due process procedures under the Constitution by not consulting with the tobacco industry in fashioning its Tobacco Control Act.

BAT instituted a lawsuit swiftly to stop the Kenyan ministry of health from coming up with effective regulations after a 13-year legislative battle for the passage of Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act in 2007.

The Kenyan experience is instructive to the Nigerian government because public health experts there also claim that BAT interfered in policy by coercing government officials to advocate on its behalf, interfering in policymaking through trade committees and third parties, and aggressively lobbying and bribing policymakers.

In the past, the media was a major battle ground for the lungs of Nigerians. While the industry tried to use the media to spread misinformation and prejudice the parliament against passing a tobacco law, civil society creatively used the media to put out credible information and educate Nigerians about the dangers inherent in tobacco use and advantage of effective tobacco control laws.

As the stage is set for presenting the draft regulations in the National Assembly, the tobacco industry expectedly will unveil new strategies and take to the media again to push its agenda. Anti-tobacco groups have vowed not to let their guards down.

The next battle will be around the passage of strong regulations and effective implementation of the NTC Act. The direction the pendulum will swing is a matter of time. Tobacco control advocates however assert that the will of the people will prevail over death-streaked profits.

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