The Federal Ministry of Health on Thursday joined forces with tobacco control groups to urge the National Assembly to approve the draft National Tobacco Control (NTC) Regulations.
In the memorandum submitted to the House of Representatives Committee on Delegated Legislation, the minister of state for health, Osagie Ehanire, said it is better and cheaper to prevent tobacco-linked diseases than to cure them.
Other tobacco control groups such as the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance also submitted their memoranda seeking the lawmakers’ approval of the NTC regulations as legal framework for the effective implementation of the NTC Act.
The House of Representatives Committee on Delegated Legislation held an interactive session on the NTC Regulation 2018 on Thursday in Abuja.
Mr Ehanire said the ministry’s memorandum was also in fulfillment of Nigeria’s obligations to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which the country signed as a party on June 28, 2004, and ratified on October 20, 2005.
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 within which says the law requires parliamentary approval of regulations – which cover about 70 percent of implementation needs of the Act – before enforcement.
In 2017, the health minister, Isaac Adewole, outlined nine key provisions of the legislation, 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 tobacco advertising among others.
In his submission before the lawmakers on Thursday, Mr Ehanire said the disease-burden resulting from tobacco use in Nigeria is enormous, noting that over 20 billion sticks of cigarettes are consumed in the country annually, while 4.5 million adults currently use tobacco products.
“Honourable chairman and members of House Committee, in order to mitigate the burden of tobacco-borne ailments, the National Assembly enacted the 2015 NTC Act, which requires the subsidiary regulations,” Mr Ehanire said.
“Section 39(1) of the Act empowers the Minister of Health to bring up NTC regulations for approval by the National Assembly.
“I am pleased to inform you that the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC) produced the draft NTC regulations as part of their duty in Section 5 of the Act, which was diligently vetted before it was transmitted to the National Assembly through the Federal Executive Council.”
In their memorandum before the lawmakers, ERA/FoEN said the regulations, when passed, would provide technical and operational guides that ensure effective implementation of the tobacco control act.
“It will clear all ambiguities and provide details for rules and procedures,” the group added.
The Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, in their memorandum, sought for a declaration of all public and work places as 100 per cent smoke free.
The draft NTC Regulations, 2018, comprises of 35 regulations and five schedules.
Regulations 3 – 6 explain health warnings and packaging (the health minister in Section 20 of the Act prescribes that a combination of text and graphic pictorial health warning messages be printed on 80 per cent of the principal display surfaces of all tobacco product packages.
Regulation 7 demands that tobacco product manufacturers, importers or distributors submit a report to the Minister of Health at the end of every calendar year, and not later than at the end of the first quarter of the succeeding calendar year.
Regulations 8 – 15 deals with achieving a smoke-free environment while Regulations 16 – 17 focuses on prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS).
In sections 18 – 21, the regulations deal with protection from tobacco industry interferences; 19 – 21 outline the responsibilities of public authority in prevention of tobacco industry interference; and 22 provides a list of authorised agencies to enforce the Act and their duties.
In Regulations 23 – 27, the document explains the procedure and conditions for issuance of licence for tobacco products businesses (manufacturers, importers, and distributors); Regulation 28 states that property forfeited to the State shall be channelled into Tobacco Control Fund (TCF).
Regulations 29 – 35 deal with public hearing by NATOCC, access to information, public reporting mechanism, and offences and penalties.
“In conclusion, the Ministry of Health and tobacco control community desire to have strong National Tobacco Control Regulations approved by the National Assembly, that will engender full implementation of the Act, so that the health and well-being of our citizens are protected and promoted,” said Mr Ehanire.