Nigerian tobacco control advocates have urged the federal government to raise the tax collected on all tobacco products and earmark a percentage of these for tobacco control activities across the country.
This advice was given in Abuja on Thursday during a press conference organised by Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance in collaboration with other advocates against tobacco use in the country.
The group earlier had a high level stakeholders session with officials from government agencies to advocate on tobacco tax to be earmarked for controlling tobacco activities in the country.
The group said increasing taxation on tobacco and earmarking a percentage of the levies for the control, can successfully reduce the menace of tobacco use in the country.
The group said Nigeria gets over N10 billion on tobacco tax yearly, yet no percentage of the levy is earmarked for tobacco control.
Tobacco tax earmarking is the setting aside of a fraction of tobacco tax for special and specific purposes.
For example, the revenue collected by the government from tobacco taxation, licencing, duties, among others can be channelled to specific funds especially for public health.
The World Health Organisation factsheet shows that tobacco use is the leading cause of non-communicable diseases.
Tobacco is the leading cause of death, illness and impoverment. It kills up to half of its users.
WHO said more than eight million people die each year from tobacco. About seven million of those deaths are as a result of direct tobacco use while 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoking.
Eighty per cent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low and middle income countries like Nigeria.
A survey conducted by the Nigeria Global Adult Tobacco Survey and published by the WHO said at least 20 billion sticks of cigarettes are smoked annually with the health hazards leading to about 17,000 deaths annually.
Nigeria is one of the countries with the lowest tobacco taxation rate in the world.
ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, at the meeting, said the group is using the opportunity to set the agenda for the newly inaugurated ministers of health and their colleagues in other ministries to implement the National Tobacco Control Act.
Mr Oluwafemi said, for several decades, the groups have worked to have the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 implemented and before the end of the last parliament, they also passed the Tobacco Control Regulations Amendment Bill.
He said part of the provisions of the bill is the creation of the tobacco control fund.
This, he said would allow enough funds to be available to carry out activities targeted towards rolling back tobacco addiction and ill-health associated with tobacco use in the country.
“About 16,800 Nigerians die every year as a result of tobacco use. There are necessary policies that government must carry out to be able to implement and enforce the law.
He said the problem had been the lack of enough budgetary allocation to the ministry of health to carry out this activities.
He said the government can benefit directly from tobacco tax increases. “Increased revenue can pay for tobacco control interventions, combating infectious diseases,” he said.
CISLAC Project Manager, Okeke Anya, said there is a urgent need for the government to increase taxes on tobacco products.
Mr Anya said taxation has been seen as one of the major ways to control the consequences of tobacco use in the country.
“It is important to emphasise on government authorities that is is not just enough to collect all those taxes that deals with tobacco but also to put some money aside because tobacco control is about the health of people. Money must be put aside to deal with the entire consequence that tobacco cause, ” he said.
Mr Anya said a tax system that encourages huge taxation should be put in place to drastically reduce the consumption of tobacco products.
He said the yearly N20 tax levied on every packet of cigarettes with 20 sticks “is too little to discourage people from smoking.”
Reading the communique from the meeting, Olu’Seun Esan of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance said the recommendation “is that Federal Ministry of Health should as an urgency set up a national tobacco control fund for financing tobacco control in the country”.
He also added that the ministry should coordinate the effort to set up the fund with other agencies.
Mr Esan added that the National Tobacco Control Fund is a provision of the 2015 National Tobacco Control Act and till now has not been implemented.
“We are using this as an opportunity to call for the implementation of the act such that the tobacco control funds should be set up,” he said. “We are also calling on civil society organisations and the media to continue to put forward the conversation on earmarking the tobacco control fund to the public space to ensure the government comply with the act.”