The Tobacco Control Bill
Although, the bill has been long overdue, it is heart-warming that it finally scaled the hurdles built against it by powerful interest groups and, by passing the bill, Nigeria has joined the league of countries concerned with the health of its population affected by unbridled tobacco use.
No doubt, the anti-tobacco law will give teeth to efforts aimed at regulating the production, sale, advertising and sponsorship of tobacco products in the country. President Jonathan should, therefore, simply assent to the bill before next week’s handover in the public interest and the Senate should be commended for passing the bill, thereby foreclosing the spirited effort by tobacco manufacturing companies to thwart the process.
Rather than an outright ban on cigarette smoking as some countries have done, the Senate opted for controlled use of tobacco, presumably, to assuage the tobacco companies. At the presentation of the bill by Senator Chris Ngige on behalf of his health committee, Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu appropriately described the passage as a milestone, noting that the dangers associated with smoking cannot be overemphasised. He said those at risk are not only the smokers but those around them – their loved ones, families, neighbours and friends.
Certainly, there is need to regulate smoking and other matters related to tobacco manufacturing and sale in order to protect the population from its harmful effects. Without doubt, the health of the population is paramount and greater than any economic gains that may accrue from tobacco production and sale. It is now up to the law enforcement agencies to enforce and ensure compliance with the law once it is assented to.
Against the economic loss by those producing cigarettes and other tobacco products, the health benefits are much more not the least being good health as well as freedom from lung, throat and mouth cancers attributed to smoking. Also, the income expended on cigarettes is saved and strained relationships at home or work place as a result of smoking are avoided. Afterall, a smoke-free environment is a healthy environment.
That unregulated production and consumption of tobacco products pose serious health risks is not in doubt, which explains why tobacco is being banned in many countries of the world. The United States and many European Union countries are in the forefront of the fight against tobacco production and smoking. Bhutan is one country that has totally outlawed the cultivation, harvesting, production and sale of tobacco and there is virtually no country in the world today where there is no rule or regulation against cigarette smoking, especially, in public places.
Faced with a bleak future in the industrialised nations that hitherto promoted tobacco production and use, the tobacco manufacturing companies seem to have shifted their base to poor African countries with teeming youthful population. This is a trend that should not be allowed and it is from this perspective that the Tobacco Control legislation must be seen as a safeguard.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has always used the “World No Tobacco Day”, held on May 31 every year, to sensitise nations on the dangers of tobacco smoking and efforts being made to protect populations around the world.
WHO estimates that tobacco smoking would kill more than eight million people yearly by 2030. This is frightening. Millions of people are swayed by assertive advertisements on different media platforms portraying false a satisfaction derived from cigarette smoking. The caution on cigarette packs saying that smoking kills or is injurious to health does not seem to restrain the addicts. Consequently, millions are dying silently every year from tobacco-related health problems. It is, therefore, hoped that the new legislation would provide the necessary strictures to discourage tobacco production, manufacturing and use in Nigeria. Indeed, it could form a good source of taxable income for government if deterrent taxation is imposed on the product to discourage use.
Public enlightenment on the dangers of tobacco smoking should also continue. Government should use social media, other mass media, including newspapers, radio and television jingles as well as billboards to discourage people from smoking. Nicotine in tobacco is poison and addiction to it is dangerous to health and could lead to early death.
The pending anti-tobacco law is certainly a good thing that should guarantee a healthier future for the Nigerian people.