Tuesday, November 15, 2016 8:46 pm
At the just concluded COP7 in far away Delhi, opinions were divided on how to handle policies against Tobacco firms. The most vocal were that of Nigerian delegates who criticized the organizational handling of policies against them
By Daniels Ekugo
The conference room housing all delegates from across the world at Greater Noida, India, came alive as the 7th session of the Conference of the Parties (CO7) to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) kicked in.
Expectations were high, delegates were told what to be said, and what to expect. Hopes were high too from anti-Tobacco campaigners both in Nigeria and other West African countries. But before they could pump up the champagne to celebrating the usual intent – Kill the tobacco firms with policies – were dissenting voices from delegates within the air-conditioned, perfumed conference room. The shocker was that delegates from Nigeria saw a different view of the policies of the organization and thereby called categorically clear of the revision of Article 5.2 guidelines, limiting Parties interaction with the tobacco industry, as well as Articles 9 and 10 which recommends measures to reduce the addictiveness of tobacco products.
In a sober communiqué to media representatives, Philip Jakpor of Network For Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT), “It is very disturbing and shocking to civil society and other governments that members of the Nigerian delegation advanced invalid arguments promoted by the tobacco industry, which has a sole aim: raking in profits, at the expense of people’s health.”
Jakpor also stressed that the Nigerian delegation actually ‘goofed’ and likened them to have sown a seed of distrust amongst member delegates. But in sharp contrast to Jakpor’s opinion as an anti-tobacco activist were that of Sotola Olusegun, Managing Director, Initiative For Public Policy Analysis.
In Sotola’s views “Undoubtedly, the myriad of bills and laws are aimed at achieving good intentions but in framing public policy, good intention that is not well balanced leads to outcomes that are counterproductive.”
“Multiplicity of regulations will distort the market. One negative effect of multiplicity of regulations is creating unnecessary complexities for the public in terms of monitoring and compliance. What these regulations would ultimately do is, according to him give discretionary powers to enforce and such discretionary power would fuel opportunity for corruption and bribery, two monsters that have retarded Nigeria’s rise to prosperity.”
Without doubt, the sector is not in short of restrictions. Already there are state laws banning public smoking in designated places, APCON regulation which prohibits bill boards and several others by the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON); which has drawn sharp criticism from not only pro-tobacco campaigners but also to smokers who feels their right to choose has been caged; while leaving out the alcoholic industry thereby sending signals of who pays the piper dictates the tune.
Desmond Wakama Nnanna of Rights Advocacy Group (RAG) in an interaction said he was standing in with the Nigerian delegation in criticizing most of the policies that tend to cage in the tobacco industry and a bit more seize the freedom of smokers in Nigeria.
“There is a need to look critically at how to draft effective tobacco control laws. This will definitely involve understanding how draconian policies affect human behaviours. There is undeniably health implications related to any product consumed, be it tobacco or alcohol. But why is tobacco being placed on high red alert while alcohol, even from statistics from the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has been blamed for high death percentages on our roadways, still be allowed free advertising on print and electronic even with the statistics?”
“Consumers in Nigeria and world over must be armed to make informed choices and laws must be drafted to respect these choices, and it seems that Nigeria’s tobacco regulation is seemingly based on a belief that those who smoke are irrational and should be punished, smokers, too, believe these laws are being enacted to infringe their guaranteed constitutional rights and freedom. A balanced regulation, will respect the rights of smokers and non-smokers. On the other hand, unbalanced regulations will encourage the illegal market (smuggling) at the expense of legal manufacturers.”
More so, Nnanna said, “the implications of having a tobacco market dominated by smugglers is beyond loss of taxes and unemployment due to legal business closure shops, bigger health related issues would ensure when people consume low quality and un-standardized products.”
Collaborating Nnanna’s assertion is Freddy Messanvi, Legal and external Affairs Director of BATN “The impact of illegal tobacco may not be felt as immediately and directly as other crimes but the consequences are real. By some estimates, illegal tobacco costs governments around the world $40-$50 billion each year, in unpaid tobacco taxes, in Nigeria this implies that illicit activities attributes to the shortfall in government’s revenue from tobacco sales by an underestimation of over N216 billion paid in taxes to the Nigerian government which could have been higher.”
“As the nature of the illegal tobacco trade varies from country to country, the drivers are very similar. These include regulation that is not balanced, over regulation, large excise increases causing price differences between countries and ineffective law enforcement measures,’ Messanvi noted.
Would these assertions have caused the sudden criticism from the Nigerian delegation on Articles 5.3, 9 and 10 of the Parties?
“Definitely!, barked Nnanna. “When you tell people that Parties have adopted resolutions allowing people to sue tobacco firms for any cough, catarrh or even motorcycle accidents, you are definitely not educating the populace, there are differentials in every suit; Alaska, Detroit and or any other suit has its own differentials. It is time we look inwards to all propaganda infused regulations. I was definitely encouraged by the delegation’s stance on reviews of these laws especially as it concerns Nigeria and Nigerians. Choices are made by consumers both in alcohol and tobacco products; why the concentration on tobacco products, that is exactly robbing Peter to pay Paul. There have been concerns around Nigeria of illicit alcoholic drinks in every nook and cranny of the state – what you call ogogoro – with many names Ope eyi, Makossa, Dorobucci, Instant Man, etc, go, and check out the resultant effects. Do tobaccos kill more than alcohol, definitely no.”
Debunking allegations of being sponsored by tobacco firms to speak against what the anti-tobacco groups has high hopes on, Nnanna said “That has always being the case with these anti-tobacco groups; because according to Philip Jakpor who I learnt issued a statement on the conference, he said “Nigerian delegation goofed at anti-tobacco conference in Delhi… suspected of being manipulated by tobacco industry” and also in paragraph 3 of his statement he indicated “a familiar tobacco industry tactic.” So I laughed. Can any tobacco firm sponsor delegates attending a pro-tobacco event? But what you will notice is that those guys went there, and had a re-think and said ‘oh, it seems we need a bit of re-tooling these policies’ and they spoke up. “Do you know that most of these policies do trigger smuggling? And yet the country is at it best now trying to curb smuggling and corruption.”
On the assertion that reviewing tobacco laws and or policies in Nigeria would be in the right director and help grow the economy? Nnanna retorted “It is advisable in this context that you don’t expect firms that has been chained down with bad or stringent policies that makes them look stupid to beg for their rights in helping the government diversify or grow the economy? These firms lose billions of naira in their bid to industrialize the economy while policies leaves them to the mercy of the underworld who cash in on such one-sided, self interest policy to unleash a reign of terror on the tobacco sector. I still believe that if our government stifle the growth of tobacco firms and cause a possible exit, we bet that fresh tobacco leaves will continue to waste in the farms while the country will be spending over $1 billion to import the same product annually.”
Now that the conference has ended and adoptions and resolutions taken, the onus now lies on the Nigerian government to review part of the tobacco laws which has always been in contention, allowing tobacco farms and smokers the freedom to their rights to choose just like alcohol.