Civil Society calls for stringent measures to check sale of tobacco to Nigerian minors

Cross section of participants at the report presentation
Cross section of participants at the report presentation

Civil society groups working on tobacco control in Nigeria on Thursday called for firm enforcement of the National Tobacco Act which prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors.

They made the call in Abuja at the public presentation of the Tobacco Sales Violation report. The report shows a worrying level of Tobacco sales to minors (people under the age of 18) in Nigeria.

Tobacco is one of the most dangerous recreational drugs abused across the world. The worrying trend is spreading in Nigeria, especially among underage (below 18 years) people. This is despite the mandatory warning on the packet of cigarettes by the Federal Ministry of Health that “smokers are liable to die young.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasised this disturbing trend in its global report on epidemics in 2017. The report shows that about 15.4 per cent of the Nigerian youth, male and female, use tobacco.

To curb the menace, Nigeria in 2015 signed the National Tobacco Act (NTC Act), a law which prohibits the sale of cigarette to minors and sale in single sticks.

The law prohibits sales to and by minors, and sale of cigarettes in single sticks and Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The WHO report titled “Tobacco vs the People” found that two of the prohibited actions were still very prominent in the four states where the study was carried out.

The survey was carried out in Ekiti, Katsina, FCT and Edo states.

The report was presented by Gatefield in collaboration with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and National Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA).

It shows that 89 per cent of cigarette vendors in the states are unaware of the law banning cigarette sale in single sticks.

It also found out that a substantial percentage of the vendors (more than half) sell cigarette to minors.

Speaking at the event, Abraham Agboms, a representative of the Federal Ministry of Health, said the report came at a most appropriate time when Nigeria is focusing on the reduction of noncommunicable diseases

He said everyone needs to be an advocate of the smoke-free environment as the effect of the smoke is hazardous to health.

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Mr Agboms said much has do not been done in the enforcement of the law because of technicalities among the enforcement agencies.

“The ministry is doing so much to see that tobacco use and sales are controlled to the barest minimum. We have a law, and unlike every other law, the regulation has to go back to the National Assembly before we can implement it. This is a drawback. But we are doing as much as we can to fight tobacco sales especially to minors,” he said.

Speaking in a similar vein, Hilda Ochefu, the Sub regional Coordinator for West Africa, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the fight against tobacco, especially the sales to minors, must be won.

“Nigeria needs to take its rightful place to provide an example for other African countries on tobacco free country. Tobacco use is the single most preventable causes of death worldwide. The enforcement of the law is something everybody should be interested in.”

Mrs Ochefu said as smokers have a right to smoke, non-smokers also have a right to breathe in smoke-free air.

She said tobacco has a propensity to cause different diseases for both the direct and second-hand smokers.

She lamented that even with the law against tobacco passed since 2015, little or nothing was being done about the menace of tobacco use in the country.

She, however, commended the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) on its recent raid of Jabi Park in Abuja where cigarettes are sold to minors.

Mrs Ochefu called for more sensitisation programmes and awareness campaigns, especially to the rural areas and vendors of tobacco.

Still speaking on the issue, Batho Ugwu, a representative of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) at the event, said the organisation was working with the Federal Ministry of Health to regulate the standardisation of tobacco products in Nigeria.

He, however, disclosed that Shisha, a popular tobacco-flavoured smoke, though not banned under the NTC, is illegal as it is not a registered product in Nigeria.

He said the agency was working on a modality to phase out shisha and other flavoured cigarettes, which have been flooding the Nigerian market.

Some of the findings of the report was that one in four vendors sell cigarette and tobacco products to people under the age of 18.

It also observed that 49.6 per cent of cigarette vendors in Abuja sell cigarette to people under the age of 18.

Also, the report stated that the majority of vendors supported the ban of cigarette and tobacco sales to minors. But almost half of the vendors (41 per cent) are unaware of the law banning the sales of tobacco to minors.

It also noted that the majority of the vendors, 89 per cent, were unaware of the law banning cigarette sale in single sticks.

Among the four states observed, the Federal Capital Territory had the highest prevalence of tobacco sales to minor with almost half of the vendors admitting to the sale of the product to persons less than 18.

The second was Ekiti, followed by Katsina and Edo states.

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