The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), an environmental advocacy group, has asked the Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, to intervene in the controversy over the fate of the National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) to prevent an imminent tobacco epidemic in Nigeria.
In a letter to the minister, the group said that the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to give an assent on the bill would not only reverse efforts to wean the youth off smoking, but also threaten Nigeria’s leadership position in global tobacco control efforts, having signed the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004 and ratified same in 2005.
The tobacco bill was sponsored by Olorunnimbe Mamora, a senator representing the Lagos East constituency at the time, passed by the Senate on March 15, 2011 and concurred by the House of Representatives on May 31, 2011 (World No Tobacco Day). The president’s signature is required to make the bill become law.
In a statement issued in Lagos, Tuesday, ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey, pleaded with Mr. Chukwu to save Nigerians from the tobacco industry’s commitment to advocating weak legislation “that will ensure they continue business as usual thereby worsening our health burden.”
“After the overwhelming support the bill received in the Senate and House of Representatives, It is sad that till date, it has not been signed by the President,” Mr. Bassey said.
“The intervention of the Health Minister is a singular action that generations of Nigerians will not forget. Giving Nigerians this gift as we mark the 2012 World No Tobacco Day will be remarkable.”
Mr. Bassey reminded the minister of his promise during last year’s World No Tobacco Day to use “all means within his office to ensure the bill gets presidential assent speedily,” even as he cautioned that the minister should be on the watch for tobacco industry lobbyists that have been let loose to ensure the bill never sees the light of day.
Reiterating ERA/FoEN’s commitment to working with the Health Ministry to ensure the assent of the bill, Mr. Bassey insisted that Nigerians are entitled to the highest standard of health which the tobacco bill when signed by the president will guarantee.