British America Tobacco urges anti-tobacco NGOs to fund alternative smoking products

The British America Tobacco Nigeria, BATN, has urged non-governmental organisations, NGOs, involved in tobacco control to put more effort in consumer education and researching for alternative smoking products.

In a statement responding to a recent criticism of the company by an NGO and made available to PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday, BATN said that it was “surprised” that an NGO would fault its recent efforts to sensitise enforcement agents on the recently passed Lagos Public.

“In recent times, stakeholders have asked NGOs involved in tobacco control to get more involved in consumer education and funding of research of alternative and healthier products for consumers, who insist on smoking as these areas are critically needed in countries like Nigeria,” said Freddy Messanvi, Area Director, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, BAT West Africa.

On Monday, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, had accused BATN of misleading the Nigerian Police by “deliberately misinterpreting” the recently-passed Lagos State bill regulating smoking in public places.

The group’s accusation came following a sensitization exercise themed ‘Understanding the Lagos State Regulation of Smoking Law’ organized by BATN, last week, for police officers in Lagos.

The event had senior police officers, including Divisional Police Officers, DPOs, from the state Commands in attendance.

“We are not deceived by BATN seeming interest in ensuring the implementation of the bill when in actual fact it is attempting to rewrite the law strictly for its commercial interests through deliberate misinterpretation of the meaning of smoke-free public places,” Akinbode Oluwafemi, Director, Corporate Accountability, ERA/FoEN, had said.

“In the months since the bill was signed into law by Governor Babatunde Fashola we have seen a host of articles syndicated across media organisations poking the law and urging so-called smokers groups to challenge sections that protect non-smokers from the hazardous tobacco smoke. Is it not ironic that the same industry that sponsors those groups is now trying to lecture the police and general public on provisions of the law?”

Mr. Oluwafemi had further argued that Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC, de-normalizes the kind of interactions that BATN is involved in with the Nigeria Police and other agencies.

But in its response, BATN said that it would continue to support key stakeholders in the country to drive a fully compliant and well regulated tobacco sector in a transparent and responsible manner.

The company also frowned at ERA/FoEN’s criticisms of its sensitisation efforts, adding that such tasks should be spearheaded by the NGO.

“Help is needed from NGOs and other stakeholders to enhance understanding and appreciation of the law, and not a time to engage in industry de-normalization tactics,” said Mr. Messanvi.

“Other issues requiring the urgent attention of all stakeholders include stemming the increasing tide of illegal trade within the sector and using the funding that the NGOs get from their international partners to build the capacity of agencies who work on tobacco control to ensure that there is compliance with stated laws and regulations,” he added.

Mr. Messanvi also said that engagement with stakeholders such as the recent sensitization event of officers of the Nigeria Police in Lagos was held in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s FCTC, Article 5.3.

“The sensitisation of the Police was done in public and the engagement was transparently conducted. In a welcome development and quite contrary to the norm, Lagosians have in recent times been empowered to understand what exactly the law says. The Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, which is tasked with enforcing the Lagos State Public Place smoking Law, had embarked on sensitizing Lagos State residents on the provisions of the law which came into force on August 17, 2014,” Mr. Messanvi said.

“Recently, a public hearing was held by the Joint Committee on Health and Justice of the House of Representatives. Stakeholders at the public hearing welcomed further regulation of the sector but tasked the legislators to ensure that the legislation was balanced and enforceable. Pro-industry stakeholders at the public hearing also asked the legislators to ensure that there is balance in whatever law that is passed. The Lagos State Public Place Smoking Law has been generally acknowledged as a balanced law and one worthy of being a model for other such legislations,” he added.

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