Nigerian anti-tobacco advocates to push for higher tobacco taxes

Cigarette smoking
A tobacco smoker used to illustrate the story.

Nigerian anti-smoking advocates are getting behind a renewed push for stiffer tobacco control and higher tobacco taxes in Nigeria.

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, over the week, trained anti-tobacco advocates including government officials, members of the civil society, and Non-Governmental Organizations on effective strategy to get the “most comprehensive tobacco control law passed in Nigeria.”

The Nigerian government is preparing a new tobacco control act after its first attempt, a civil society driven process in 2011, failed to get President Goodluck Jonathan’s assent. The new tobacco bill is still at the conception stage in Nigeria’s health ministry.

When the new bill gets to the parliament and is open to public debate, anti tobacco advocates plan to push for higher tobacco taxes and stiffer tobacco laws to cut down tobacco consumption in Nigeria.

The African Director of CTFK, Joshua Kyallo, said a higher tobacco tax will aide government “raise revenues, get money to invest in public health and address the consequences of tobacco use.”

Nigeria currently operates a 23-year-old tobacco control decree. The failed National Tobacco Control Bill 2009 is an upgrade of the Tobacco Control Act of 1990 and a replica of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Nigeria ratified the FCTC treaty in October 2005.

Anti-tobacco advocates argue that Nigeria needs to fully adopt the more comprehensive provision of FCTC.

The new tobacco bill will also provide broader free smoking zones to reduce health hazards associated with second hand smoking.

Huge public health problem

Mr. Kyallo argues that tobacco is a huge problem to the world, including Nigeria.

Nigeria, with its over 170 million population and weak tobacco legislation, has emerged as a viable market for tobacco industries.

Nigeria, one of Africa’s most populous and corrupt countries, is British American Tobacco’s most lucrative market in Africa. The company controls 84 per cent of local cigarette market.

In 2010, while markets in Turkey, Iran and South Africa declined, BAT’s profit from the African and Middle East regions grew by £134 million to £858 million, driven largely by its Nigerian market.

In 2011, the company told its shareholders in its 2011 annual report that “In Nigeria, volumes were up and market share continued to grow.”

It predicated its Nigerian market expansion on a blanket “population growth and increasing disposable income.”

There is no up-to-date data showing how many Nigerians are smokers or how many die of tobacco related illnesses, but research conducted in 1988 by the Nigeria’s health ministry showed that nine million Nigerians were smokers, out of which 3.5 million smoked an average of 20 sticks daily. A 2006 research carried out in Lagos revealed that two people die daily from tobacco related illnesses in the state.

Globally, the tobacco industry is a bug-bear for many health activists and government institutions.

While health organisations and environmentalists support stiffer tobacco control laws, they face solid opposition from tobacco companies, their suppliers, traders, community associations of tobacco producing communities and others connected economically to tobacco production, including governments struggling to balance the public health versus economic implication of stiffer tobacco control bill.

According Mr. Kyallo, the government gains on all fronts with stiffer tobacco laws.

“Increased taxes will generate revenue for the government, and most importantly improve public health,” he said.

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