The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria has described the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act by the Federal Ministry of Health as “very discouraging”.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director at ERA/FoEN, said Wednesday that nothing had been done by the implementing ministry towards the law.
“There are basic steps that the ministry ought to have taken by now which have not been taken, and that to me shows some level of indifference on the part of that ministry to the effective implementation of that law,” Mr. Oluwafemi.
The National Tobacco Control bill was passed in May 2015 by the last National Assembly, and signed into law in the same month by former president Goodluck Jonathan.
“We’ll continue to engage them but we were thinking things would move faster than it has moved since that bill was passed into law and assented by the president,” said Mr. Oluwafemi.
“We are expecting that the ministry would move faster because this has to do with lives of the people and the more we delay the more people will be dying as a result of addiction to tobacco products.”
Mr. Oluwafemi spoke at a press briefing tagged ‘Make BAT Pay’ in Lagos to commemorate the International Day of Action Against British American Tobacco.
Six million people die annually from tobacco-induced illnesses, according to the World Health Organization, while second-hand smoke is responsible for over 600,000 yearly deaths in non-smokers.
“Increasing deaths from tobacco correspond with huge profits the tobacco corporation make from marketing their deadly ware,” said Mr. Oluwafemi.
“As we speak today, British American Tobacco (BAT) is holding its Annual General Meeting at Milton Court Concert Hall, Silk Street, in London, where it will announce huge profits from mortgaging the lungs of underage and mostly under-informed cigarette addicts.
“Today we join activists from across the globe, from Africa to UK to the United States, demanding that BAT be investigated for not only engaging in underhand marketing to conscript our kids into smoking, but also corporate espionage and bribery to undermine tobacco control legislations especially in Africa.”
In 2015, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Panorama aired an investigation where it detailed a series of bribery and espionage activities perpetrated by BAT in Africa.
In the expose, a whistle-blower and former staff of the company, Paul Hopkins, revealed a bribery scam contrived and carefully implemented to thwart life-saving legislations in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Comoros Island.
Mr. Oluwafemi said that just as BAT was involved in bribery scandals in East Africa, the company also engages in behind-the-scenes acts in Nigeria to thwart the WHO-FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).
“We will not forget in a hurry, the tortuous process of getting the National Tobacco Control Bill (now Tobacco Control Act) into law just as we will not forget the tens of hurriedly formed BAT front groups deployed to fight taxation, ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) and other life-saving provisions from getting into the final document.”
ERA/FoEN demanded that investigating agencies beam their searchlights on BAT operations in West Africa, and particularly, in Nigeria where the corporation is involved in “so-called anti-smuggling campaign and lobby to thwart increase in taxes.”
The group also asked government agencies to probe all tax waivers or grants granted to BAT by past governments, as well as investigate all past dealings between the company and the Nigerian government agencies.