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Tobacco: CPC and the big monster


senate tobaccoThere is a growing concern about the resurgence of illicit trade in tobacco. Tobacco Reporter, an online medium that provides information and insight on the tobacco industry, estimates that the illicit trade accounts for 600 billion cigarettes sticks per year. Through multilateral collaboration and consistent clampdown on the trade by regulatory bodies, significant successes were recorded in reducing the volume of illicit cigarettes to less than 20 percent in Nigeria in the last few decades. Before then, the volume of illicit cigarettes smuggled into the Nigerian market averaged 80 percent of the product consumed in the country. However, the success recorded in stemming the trade is being eroded as flavoured cigarettes flood the Nigerian market.

The sale and proliferation of flavoured cigarettes is, no doubt, an alarming dimension to the problem. They are outlawed in Nigeria and declared as contraband by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). While flavoured cigarettes smell nice and may seem a safer alternative to conventional cigarette, its health consequences for the youth and children can be very grave. They are alluring to children and young adults because the flavouring masks the pungent taste of the tobacco, coming in flavours such as strawberry, vanilla, orange, cherry, chocolate etc. that are particularly attractive to the target demographic.

It is for the aforementioned reasons that flavoured cigarettes are clearly outlawed in the recently signed Tobacco Control Act (TCA) as outlined in Sections E and G of Part 1 of the TCA. Some of the major objectives of the Act include “discouraging smoking initiation” and ensuring that “tobacco or tobacco products are not designed in any way that make them more addictive, especially to persons who are below 18 years of age.”

In spite of an alert by SON to the general public on the proliferation of the variants of a brand of cigarettes, importers of the brand have continued to trade in the product. The importers, it was reported, only applied for licence for the menthol flavour variant, but have been using the defective licence to import and sell not only the menthol flavoured variant of cigarettes, but also other flavours such as apple, chocolate, orange and strawberry, which have not been tested by SON to confirm that the constituents of the cigarettes are in conformity with the regulatory requirements. No licence has been issued for the products either. What is more worrisome is the extent to which the importers/manufacturers are willing to go in misleading SON and the general public and circumventing the law in a bid to hide the fact that their products are flavoured.

They have altered their packaging by changing the wording Strawberry” to “STR.” Illicit cigarettes are said to be one of the world’s most illegally trafficked goods. The cigarettes have either been smuggled, counterfeited or have evaded duties in another manner after being legitimately manufactured in another country. They are priced much cheaper than approved cigarettes, and are not subjected to stringent regulation in the form of health warnings, product checks, or age verification before purchase. Of course, there is usually a natural recourse to cheaper sources by low income earners. The illicit trade also imposes heavy regulatory burdens.

Compliance with prevailing industrial hygiene and safety standards is usually low. It also important to note that illicit trade in tobacco fuels other criminal activities such as global terrorism, money laundering and human trafficking. A year 2012 Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum further affirmed that “illicit trade is a big source of revenue for transnational criminal networks.”

Sadly, Nigeria is not winning the battle against illicit trade in tobacco products as its porous borders, poor intelligence network and corruption of due process have conspired to strengthen the sale of such tobacco products.

The problem requires concerted efforts by government, civil society groups and the private sector to tackle. There is also need for greater collaboration between agencies and stakeholders in the law enforcement business, which include the Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigeria Police, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), in ensuring that smugglers and dealers in banned tobacco products do not compromise health standards. Recent raids carried out through a special task force set up by the SON and CPC on dealers in illicit tobacco products in parts of Lagos as well as distribution of flyers with visuals for semi-literate and literate consumers on flavoured cigarettes are indeed commendable. But more importantly, prosecution of offenders will serve as a strong deterrent to others.
Agencies such as the CPC and SON should comb widely major markets for illicit tobacco products.
• Adetuberu sent this piece from Lagos.

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