Lack of political will, corruption hindering passage of Nigeria’s Tobacco control bill, groups say

The NGOs warned lawmakers to be wary of the tobacco industry’s “known tactics” of thwarting legislation.

A coalition of non-governmental organizations has blamed a lack of political will and corruption for the delay in the passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill, NTCB.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC; the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN; and the Coalition Against Tobacco, CAT, stated this at a joint press conference in Lagos, on Wednesday.

The groups also noted that the greatest obstacle to the passage of the NTCB is tobacco industry interference.

“There are several reasons why we must now move to autopilot mode on the tobacco control bill,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Director of Corporate Accountability, ERA/FoEN.

“It may interest you to know that during the Yuletide, we continued to unearth and document the subtle and very deliberate activities of the tobacco industry aimed at confusing the Nigerian public and thwarting any form of regulation,” said Mr. Oluwafemi.

“We documented more articles in the dailies and online platforms obviously concocted and written word for word by PR agencies paid to burnish the image of British American Tobacco Nigeria, BATN.

“As anticipated, the articles showed similarities in phrases and intent, especially the demand for watered down legislation which will allow BATN to continue its deceptive marketing strategies that have lured our youths into the smoking habit,” Mr. Oluwafemi added.

The sixth session of the National Assembly passed the NTCB on May 31, 2011, but President Goodluck Jonathan failed to assent to it.

In this Assembly, the bill has scaled through the first and second reading at the Lower House and is awaiting a deliberation of a joint committee on Judiciary and Health before a Public Hearing is held.

At the Upper House, it has passed the first reading.

Mr. Oluwafemi urged the lawmakers to be wary of the tobacco industry’s “known tactics” across the globe to thwart legislation.

“Some of the tactics are lobbying political decision-makers, and even going as far as to draft legislations and regulations; promise of self-regulation and offering of voluntary initiatives, some supposedly designed to prevent youth smoking; offering to ‘partner’ with governments on issues related or unrelated to public health.

“Others are demanding a seat at the table when tobacco control policies are being developed, claiming rights as a legitimate ‘stakeholder; promotion of so-called ‘corporate social responsibility’ through donations and other initiative as we see in communities like Iseyin where BAT regularly holds farmers day celebrations; and hiding behind workers, farmers, retailers and front groups,” Mr. Oluwafemi added.

Last week, the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the bill prohibiting smoking in public places.

Olatoyosi Onaolapo, an anti-tobacco advocate, said that state governments have begun to realize the importance of tobacco control laws.

“It begins to look like the tobacco control advocates don’t know what they are doing, a lot of politics is involved,” said Ms. Onaolapo, National Co-ordinator, CAT.

“As long as we continue to delay the passage, we’ll continue to lose more lives,” she added.

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