An advocacy group, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), has decried the interference of the tobacco industry in Nigeria with government policies, including policies meant to regulate the industry.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of CAPPA, expressed this dissatisfaction during the launch of the Nigeria Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report (2021) on Friday in Lagos.
The Nigeria Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report 2021 will form part of the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which measures efforts by governments to address tobacco industry interference.
The Index is also a global survey of how public health policies are protected from the tobacco industry’s subversive efforts and activities, and what governments must do to push back the industry influence.
Countries that are scored well on the Global Tobacco Index have been able to curtail the meddling of the tobacco industry in public health policies.
On Wednesday, the Africa Tobacco Control Alliance launched the regional tobacco industry interference index which detailed how the industry exploited opportunities provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to work with African governments.
Giving the summary of the Nigeria Tobacco Industry Interference Index, Mr Oluwafemi said like the rest of the globe, the tobacco industry in Nigeria has “consistently interfered unnecessarily in tobacco control policies and unlawfully embarked on corporate social responsibility activities in clear contravention of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.
According to Mr Oluwafemi, the global index adopts a scoring system of 0–5, where a higher score indicates the stronger tobacco industry interference.
“In 2020 Nigeria obtained 49 points but unfortunately, the outcome of this year’s survey is 53 which shows the tobacco industry is intensifying its subversive actions despite Nigeria’s tobacco control legislation.
“The tobacco industry still participates in policy development in Nigeria. The tobacco industry was invited and participated in the meetings organised by the federal government, including a public hearing towards the passage of the National Tobacco Control Regulation 2019.
“The tobacco industry enjoys consistent invitations from the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to their meetings where supposed classified resolutions on standards are discussed, and agreements are reached. The industry is on various technical committees set up by the SON,” he said.
Mr Oluwafemi said the activities of the tobacco industry in Nigeria clearly violate Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation – Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), which Nigeria is a signatory to.
He said the industry hides under corporate social responsibility (CSR) to foster their “unnecessary interaction with the government.”
One of the most recent CSR activities of the tobacco industry is a partnership between the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) to empower young agriculture entrepreneurs financially.
Mr Oluwafemi said there is overwhelming evidence of “unnecessary interaction between the tobacco industry and government, most especially in the agriculture sector, with most of the initiatives advertised in the pages of newspapers and the social media.
He added that the industry is also part of some committees set up by the government which makes interactions with public officials plausible.
Philip Jakpor, the Director of Programmes at CAPPA, said the organisation has engaged in several deliberations with the Nigerian government in a bid to reduce the influence and interference of the tobacco industry with government policies.
He said the Federal government earlier fixed June 23, as the take-off date for the policy on Pictorial Health Warnings on tobacco products packs in Nigeria, but there has been no sign that the policy is in force, and no official communication from the government that the policy has taken off or extension granted to the tobacco companies.
Mr Jakpor added that although the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 provide for transparency and accountability in government dealings with the tobacco industry, the government of Nigeria has not been so transparent with its dealings with the industry.
CAPPA recommended the full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.
“The government should provide information of its dealings, interactions, economic incentives, and benefits that the Tobacco industry receives from it, and reject non-binding agreements with the tobacco industry,” Mr Oluwafemi said.
He added that governments are often disadvantaged when they agree to cooperate with the tobacco industry, and the Nigerian government should desist from collaborations with the industry.
The group urged the government should de-normalize the so-called socially responsible activities of the tobacco industry, as these are a form of tobacco promotion.
CAPPA added that government officials in relevant ministries, departments, and agencies must be made to sign conflict-of-interest forms periodically to remind them of commitments or obligations that protect public health.
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