Why implementation of Nigeria’s Tobacco Control Act is slow – Health Minister

Person smoking cigarette used to illustrate the story
Person smoking cigarette used to illustrate the story

The absence of regulations for the implementation of the Nigeria’s Tobacco Control Act is the most critical obstacle affecting the implementation of the law, the Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, has said.

Mr. Adewole said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES that his ministry is currently working on the implementation and other loopholes that become evident along the way would be tackled.

“There are several challenges; the most critical is the need for the regulations to return to the National Assembly for approval before they can be fully implemented,” said Mr. Adewole, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“The National Assembly should strengthen procedures for approving regulations.”

The Nigeria Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, but its implementation has been stalled ever since. Tobacco control advocacy groups say between the period the bill was signed into law and July, 2016, when Mr. Adewole inaugurated the National Tobacco Control Committee, the tobacco industry had fought relentlessly to sabotage implementation.

Ahead of this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization stated that tobacco use kills more than seven million people annually and costs over $1.4 trillion in healthcare expenditure and lost productivity.

Mr. Adewole told PREMIUM TIMES he was not satisfied with the progress made thus far in implementing the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act.

“This does not mean we have been sitting idle,” he added.

“The Ministry has commenced implementation of some of the provisions of the Act, such as establishing the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC), Tobacco Control Unit (TCU), drafting the Regulations…

“But the Regulations, which cover about 70 per cent of implementation needs of the Act, need National Assembly approval. This will cause further delay in the full implementation of the Act.”

Last year, the health minister inaugurated the Board of the NATOCC, a committee to help the implementation of tobacco control policies, programmes and projects in accordance with the World Health Organization Framework Convention for Tobacco Control guidelines.

But the composition of the members of the committee came under scrutiny as a group, the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA), questioned their integrity.

In an advertorial published in The Nation newspaper of October 6, 2016, the IPPA said there were attempts by foreign entities to hijack the implementation of the law through insertion of clauses and inducements.

Tobacco control advocates said groups such as the IPPA are tobacco industry front groups used in an attempt to thwart the tobacco control policies.

“Having found its membership untainted, the tobacco industry tried to sell the public a dummy by insinuating that the NATOCC members were funded agents of international donor agencies and NGOs,” Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said at a press conference earlier this month.

“The role of the NATOCC which boasts credible individuals determined to ensure Nigeria implements the tobacco law to the last detail is advisory.”

Thompson Ayodele, IPPA’s Executive Director, denied his group was being sponsored by the tobacco industry, adding that there was nothing wrong with taking a position different from that of tobacco control advocates.

“If they think their position is the only valid position, then they are mistaken,” Mr. Ayodele had told PREMIUM TIMES.

“If they keep on antagonizing any group opposing them and associating them with the tobacco industry, then you should ask them, ‘What is their own interest, who is funding them?’

“These groups want tobacco banned and we have always advocated that banning tobacco is not the solution. Have they noticed any market where tobacco is banned?”

On mechanisms by his ministry to insulate tobacco policies from interference, Mr. Adewole noted that the tobacco industry across the world, including Nigeria, is very strong, influential, and well-funded.

“So, there is no perfect mechanism to insulate tobacco control policies from tobacco industry interference,” he said.

“What can be done is to be proactive and set benchmarks for interactions, where necessary. We believe that the Act contains such needed benchmarks.

“We cannot state how far-reaching or strong tobacco industry interference is on the Nigerian government. What we do know is that the tobacco industry has eyes and ears in most of the key Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.”

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