Barely two years since the enactment of the Tobacco Control Bill into law by the country's former President Goodluck Jonathan on the 26th of May, 2015, the Nigerian House of Representatives is attempting to amend the act which is still grappling with implementation. The proposed amendment seeks to take away control of the regulation of tobacco products from the Federal Ministry of Health and hand it over to the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), citing the United States as a reference point, although unlike Nigeria, the United States is yet to formally confirm or accede to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
"The one is to amend the National Tobacco Control Act (HB 882) and the other, to amend the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control Act (HB 883), this bill; when eventually passed will give NAFDAC the responsibility of regulating the Tobacco industry in Nigeria just like FDA does in the United States instead of leaving the regulation of a multi Billion dollar industry in the hands of a dept in the Federal ministry of Health for regulation as is currently the case," says Hon. Dickson Tarkighir, the House of Representatives Member from Nigeria seeking to amend the act.
Tobacco is a major issue in Nigeria, the 2012 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) shows a 5.6 percent prevalence rate, meaning an estimated 4.5m Nigerians smoke amid growing concern that more young Nigerians are becoming smokers, though data is unavailable on the prevalence among youth as the country was unable to conduct the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) due to financial constraints according to an official from the Health Ministry. The country has become a major target for major International Tobacco Companies (ITCs) including Philip Moris International, which last year commenced local manufacturing in the country and announced that they are "here to stay".
"We must not underrate the power of the tobacco industry and the resources available to it. It is a battle we must fight together", says Prof. Isaac Adewole, Nigeria's health minister who has unequivocally communicated his resolve to enforce the tobacco control act and setting up a national tobacco control committee in line with the provision of the 2015 act. According to him the country is looking to implement a tobacco tax modeled after Thailand for the purpose of financing the Universal Health Coverage agenda of the present administration.
The Tobacco Industry which is believed to have the backing of top Nigerians across board, recently received the public endorsement of an influential former President, Olusegun Obasanjo who lauded the British American Tobacco (BAT) company as a major player in the country's economic development during the event of the commissioning of British American Tobacco Nigeria head office in Lagos which was attended by two prominent first grade traditional rulers and members of the Nigerian Parliament.
The Tobacco Control desk officer at the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Malau has said that the Ministry is undeterred with an unprecedented political will from the Health Minister and the Vice President of the Country, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. "A draft regulation (including a proposal to ensure up to 80 percent graphical warning in cigarette pack designs) is currently with the Federal Ministry of Justice", he said, expressing optimism that the regulation should be in effect before the May 31st World No Tobacco Day celebrations. He said that the Tobacco Control program is receiving attention for the first time with a budget provision in the 2017 proposal before the National Assembly.
The Nigerian Tobacco Control Act is not the most stringent of legislation against the tobacco industry but has in place some relevant provisions including, a total ban on direct advertising of tobacco and sales or access of products to persons under 18 and prohibition of smoking in public places. Although Nigeria is yet to ratify the protocol on illicit trade of tobacco products, a 2012 World Health Organisation treaty designed to combat the worldwide illicit tobacco trade - a major issue of concern to both the country, as well as tobacco industry stakeholders whose motives remain suspect. In spite of the slow pace, Nigeria is making steady gains towards enforcing tobacco control which we cannot afford to reverse.