The new tobacco bill

Daily Trust - - VIEWS OPINION - No. 20 P.O.W. Mafemi Cres­cent, Off Solomon Lar Way, Utako District, Abuja 09-6726241, 6715364 KABIRU A. YUSUF: Chair­man/Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer ISIAQ AJI­BOLA: Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor/Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer MAN­NIR DAN ALI: Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor/Edi­tor-in-Chief

A leg­is­la­tion ap­proved last week by the Federal Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil (FEC) con­tains pro­vi­sions that toughen ex­ist­ing laws, in­clud­ing up to two years in prison and 5 mil­lion naira in fine, on the trade in and con­sump­tion of tobacco in the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to Health Min­is­ter Onye­buchi Chukwu, the ar­eas that are be­ing tar­geted in the leg­is­la­tion in­clude the en­vi­ron­ment. “We want to pro­duce 100 per cent tobacco-free en­vi­ron­ment for people who do not want any­thing to do with tobacco use. And so places will be clearly des­ig­nated whether pub­lic places, whether in­door, or out­door will be clearly des­ig­nated as non smok­ing area”, he said. The pro­posal will now go to the Na­tional As­sem­bly for de­bate and pos­si­ble pas­sage.

But part of the prob­lem is the smug­gling of tobacco and re­lated prod­ucts into the coun­try through the borders. This has made their pro­lif­er­a­tion in the coun­try a se­ri­ous chal­lenge. De­ter­ring their con­sump­tion should go pari passu with cur­tail­ing their avail­abil­ity. This il­licit traf­fic is a lu­cra­tive one, be­cause it con­sti­tutes be­tween 9 and 11 per­cent of global trade in tobacco prod­ucts, with low and mid­dle in­come coun­tries suf­fer­ing from higher rates of it.

In Nigeria, smug­gling cig­a­rettes is fa­cil­i­tated by the long and por­ous land borders and prox­im­ity to sea ports in neigh­bour­ing Benin Repub­lic and Togo. The land borders re­quire enor­mous hu­man and tech­no­log­i­cal polic­ing re­sources, which Nigeria has not been able to meet. The dan­gers and phys­i­cal hard­ship in­volved in man­ning even le­gal en­try points make se­cu­rity per­son­nel highly vul­ner­a­ble to fi­nan­cial in­duce­ments eas­ily avail­able to the pow­er­ful and wealthy syn­di­cates run­ning the il­licit busi­ness.

Smug­gling through borders of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zam­fara, Katsina, Kano, and Ji­gawa states bring in cig­a­rettes from Libya, Morocco and Egypt; while cig­a­rettes made in China, the Euro­pean Union and USA come in mainly through sea ports in Benin Repub­lic and Togo through Ogun and Kwara States.

Smug­gling through in­ter­na­tional air­ports is by of­fend­ers ex­ceed­ing law­ful lim­its of 200cig­a­rettes and 50 medium-sized cigars as “duty free’’ items meant solely “for per­sonal use’’. Their ap­peal is in their be­ing re­garded as pres­ti­gious and low in tar and nico­tine con­tents.

A “boom’’ in duty free cig­a­rettes has en­cour­aged il­licit “fake cig­a­rettes’’ mar­keted by com­pa­nies with du­bi­ous ad­dresses in ma­jor Nige­rian cities. Like fake phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drugs, most fake cig­a­rettes are man­u­fac­tured out­side Nigeria, sold at low prices, and may con­tain un­ap­proved and harm­ful sub­stances.

The data on the quan­tity of il­licit trade in cig­a­rettes is limited and of­ten dated. Nigeria is said to spend 89.5 bil­lion naira an­nu­ally on tobacco con­sump­tion, most of which are il­lic­itly traded and smug­gled into the coun­try. Like­wise, some 5 mil­lion adults smoke cig­a­rettes and ex­pose 27 mil­lion oth­ers to harm­ful sec­ond-hand smoke, ac­cord­ing to one es­ti­mate. Such fig­ures are hard to ver­ify, but they serve to il­lus­trate both the health haz­ards to the pop­u­la­tion and the chal­lenge in cur­tail­ing it.

They also raise other sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, in­clud­ing the growth of or­gan­ised crime syn­di­cates who, as can be seen in many Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, pro­mote bribery of govern­ment of­fi­cials as well as, de­mor­alise them by killing ded­i­cated en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

Where the trade is le­gal, smug­glers cir­cum­vent pay­ing taxes. This de­nies au­thor­i­ties valu­able in­come for pro­vid­ing so­cial ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion, health clin­ics. In states heav­ily re­liant on funds doled out from the federal purse, losses in rev­enues from tobacco tax sus­tain such de­pen­dency.

Nigeria is a sig­na­tory to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s “Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol (FCTC)’’. It has been op­er­at­ing with a law en­acted in 1990. The new Na­tional Tobacco Con­trol Bill will hope­fully do­mes­ti­cate the WHO’s con­ven­tion when it be­comes law, al­though the tobacco lobby is known to be try­ing to in­flu­ence its fi­nal out­come.

How­ever, what­ever the even­tual fate of the leg­is­la­tion, the over­rid­ing health of the cit­i­zens must count higher than the commercial ben­e­fits of the tobacco man­u­fac­tur­ers and the in­come de­rived from their be­ing taxed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.