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Group seeks probe of Nigerian delegation to treaty talks on tobacco



The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has asked the federal government to probe members of the Nigerian delegation that attended the seventh session of the Conference of Parties (COP7) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (TCTC).

The conference, which held in Delhi last year, was to establish their links with the tobacco industry.ERA/FoEN made the call following a Reuters’ investigation released recently, which revealed that Philip Morris International (PMI) had been running a secret global campaign to undermine the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).

Tobacco industry lobbyists, who were among government delegations at the treaty talks, nearly marred debates with questionable suggestions at the conference.The Reuters leaks revealed among others, that PMI strategy of undermining tobacco control policies included lobbying lawmakers, bureaucrats and other government officials; trying to move tobacco issues away from health departments and; deploying third parties, including retail groups, to make its case and exert pressure on decision-makers.

They also engage the media on tobacco issues in generating public debate to influence decision-makers.Reuters exposed how a Nigerian delegate at the treaty talks asked that “tobacco epidemic” be removed from a draft proposal on liability for tobacco-related harm, a position that most countries found very shocking.

Head of the Nigerian delegation, Prof. Christiana Ukoli, however, disassociated other Nigerian delegates from the statement. The Reuters leaks, which might be considered the largest on the tobacco industry, perused internal documents of PMI and showed details of the company’s operations, including secret corporate lobbying campaigns.

In a statement by ERA/FoEN head, media & campaigns, Philip Jakpor in Lagos, the group said: “We are not surprised at these activities of PMI because we have all along alerted that the company is in the business of stymieing the implementation of the life-saving WHO-FCTC provisions.  The magnitude is what we never knew. This is very alarming.”

ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: “That PMI infiltrated several countries’ delegations to derail the talks is very disturbing but to know that some Nigerian delegates may have been conscripted into the illicit plan is an eye-opener.

“It also reinforces our demand that the Nigerian government insulate the National Tobacco Control Act from tobacco industry interference.” “Oluwafemi explained that the shocking details in the report puts in perspective a host of issues, including the controversial demand from certain quarters that the implementation of the NTC Act be moved from the Federal Ministry of Health to another agency of government.

“One of the documented strategies of PMI is to try to move tobacco issues away from health departments. That is exactly what the spurious Amendment Bill on the NTC Act is recommending in contravention of global practice. Now the picture is getting clearer.”He, therefore, urged the Nigerian government to probe possible links between members of the delegation to the treaty talks with the tobacco industry, and urgently put in place regulations for implementing the NTC Act as it anticipated the planned enforcement of its provisions that do not require regulations.

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