Online retailers in Nigeria are defying the tobacco control law and continue to make brisk business selling tobacco and its products to the public through their websites.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES showed that these online retailers not only market products like cigarettes and shisha, they do not have mechanisms to ensure prospective buyers are aged 18 and above, a flagrant violation of the National Tobacco Control Act.
The NTCA 2015 in Section 15(4) stipulates that ‘A person shall not sell or offer to sell or distribute tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet or other online devices”.
In Section 15(2), it states that ‘Prior to any tobacco or tobacco product sale or trade, the seller or trader shall verify the age of the purchaser by checking any form of official identification prescribed by law’.
The law defines tobacco products as ‘products entirely or partly made of the leaf tobacco as raw material which are manufactured to be used for smoking, sucking, chewing or snuffing’.
Tobacco For All
Nigeria’s tobacco control legislation came into existence in 2015, signed into law by former president Goodluck Jonathan after years of delays.
But its implementation has been stalled due to a controversial clause in the law which requires parliamentary approval of regulations – which cover about 70 per cent of implementation needs of the Act – before enforcement.
To mark the 2017 World No Tobacco Day, Isaac Adewole, the health minister, outlined nine key provisions of the NTCA, which do not need the regulations, for implementation.
The provisions included the prohibition of the sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below age 18 as well as a ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet, or other online devices.
But Nigerian online retailers have ignored the legislation, blatantly advertising for sale on their websites, packs of cigarettes and other by-products of tobacco.
On Konga, for instance, some of the tobacco products on sale include United Arab Emirates-made Al Fakher Shisha Tobacco, described as among the oldest and most famous brands of shisha tobacco in the world. Part of the product description read: “Al Fakher is made from only the best parts of the tobacco leaf and the finest European flavours”.
Other products on the website include the Complete Maryjane Shisha Flavor Hookah Pot and liquid tobacco such as Ice Tobacco described as a mixture of American tobacco and fruits, caramel, and mint.
While there are no tobacco products sold on Jumia, accessories like smoking pipes and pots as well as rolling papers are on sale. Indian hemp is also available for prospective buyers.
On the website of Nkataa, an online retailer based in Abuja, packs of popular cigarette brands like Benson & Hedges, St Moritz, and Marlboro are on sale.
There are no age verification mechanisms on the websites.
Mum Is The Word
All the online retailers contacted, except Jumia, did not respond to questions on the sale of tobacco products on their sites.
Officials at both Konga and Nkataa promised to get back to the reporter with their answers when contacted last week but have failed to do so.
A statement from Jumia insisted the company had not violated any law in the country.
“Jumia is aware of the provisions of Section 15(4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, which prohibits the sale of tobacco and tobacco products on the Internet, and takes all possible measures to ensure compliance with this Law,” the company said in response to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries.
“It is worthy to note that Section 45 of the same law defines Tobacco Products as ‘products entirely or partly made of the leaf tobacco as raw materials which are manufactured to be used for smoking, sucking, chewing or snuffing.’
“Products, such as e-cigarettes, smoking pipes or cigarette wrapping papers are not Tobacco Products according to this provision.”
The company said it operates an online marketplace that allows vendors to sell their products through its platform while also ensuring that they abide by the provisions of relevant laws and regulations.
“When onboarding vendors onto the Jumia platform, Jumia ensures that it provides training to the vendors and properly communicates the importance of abiding by all relevant laws and regulations,” the statement continued.
“Jumia also provides a penalty clause in its agreement with the vendors to discourage violation of relevant laws and regulations by.
“Where Jumia discovers listings that violate provisions of relevant laws and regulations, Jumia delists the products and penalises the vendor. Where Jumia finds that any particular vendor continually infringes relevant laws and regulations, Jumia would proceed to terminate the vendor’s service on Jumia’s marketplace platform.”
Mr Adewole said the Nigerian government is unaware of the violation of the NTC Act by the online retailers.
“FMOH (Federal Ministry of Health) is yet to be informed officially on this violation,” Mr Adewole, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, told PREMIUM TIMES in an emailed response.
“However, we will sensitise the public using mass media as well as develop and strengthen enforcement mechanism to ensure sectors comply fully with the Act.
“A Technical Working Group on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) will also be set up to advice appropriately.”
But Hilda Ochefu, sub-regional coordinator, West Africa, for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, insisted that the health ministry had been made aware of the actions of the online retailers.
“This information was passed on by civil society groups,” Ms Ochefu told PREMIUM TIMES.
According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills over seven million people annually (over six million from direct tobacco use and 890,000 from exposure to second-hand smoke), and is an increasing risk factor in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, cancers and chronically obstructed pulmonary disease.
More than 17,500 of these deaths occur in Nigeria, according to the Tobacco Atlas.
A 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, GATS, in Nigeria showed that more than 20 billion sticks of cigarettes are consumed annually in the country; 5.6 per cent adults (about 4.5 million) currently use tobacco products out of which 4.1 million are men and 0.5 million women.
Tobacco control advocates have continually criticised the Nigerian government for not showing enough political will in the fight against tobacco use in the country.
For instance, the controversial regulations needed for the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act were only approved last June, more than three years after the law came into existence.
The National Tobacco Control Regulations, produced by the National Tobacco Control Committee with technical support from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat, has been transmitted to the National Assembly for final approval, the health ministry said.
Ms Ochefu said the non-implementation of the NTC Act has been a source of worry for tobacco control advocates, describing the requirement that regulations for implementation of the law be approved by parliament as a “great obstacle”.
“Although the federal ministry of health has put the necessary structures in place as required by the Act, there has been no actual enforcement,” Ms Ochefu said.
“We urge the National Assembly to accelerate the approval process for the Regulations as soon as they receive it.
“We will continue to support the government in whatever way we can to ensure that the Act is fully implemented in order to protect millions of our citizens from tobacco-related death and disease.”
Last year, Mr Adewole wrote to Nigerian law enforcement agencies – the police and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency – requesting their collaboration in the enforcement of the sections of the tobacco control law that do not require regulations.
The police and the NDLEA did not respond to requests for comments.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy director at the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said the health minister had done the right thing by writing to the law enforcement agencies.
“I think for us what we are going to possibly do is to look at how we can use the law to compel the law enforcement agencies to do what is right,” Mr Oluwafemi said.
“We have a law that prohibits the sale of tobacco and tobacco-related materials online, particularly when they do not have age verification mechanisms.
“I don’t think the law enforcement agencies have any excuse at this point, they have failed in their responsibilities, they should wake up and ensure that the National Tobacco Control Act is fully enforced on these people and those online shops that have flouted our laws should be made to face justice.”