In this interview with our correspondent, Head, Media and Campaigns of the Environmental Rights Action, Philip Jakpor re-echoes the need for the federal government to swifly gazette the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 and the dangers Nigerian youths are exposed to due to the continued delay.
ERA/FoEN recently rewarded finalists in its Tobacco Control Rap Challenge. Can you tell us what the eveht was about?
Yes we did reward five finalists in our rap challenge which started on September 2. The tobacco control rap competition is our way of pooling the rug from the feet of the tobacco industry which has for years exploited and manipulated our youths through their deceptive marketing of tobacco products. As you know, the youths represent the biggest potential market for the tobacco companies since they want to assume the youths are gullible and can become replace smokers for the dying generation of old and current smokers. It is for this reason that we have equally targeted this age bracket for education and conscription into the war against tobacco use. The youths do research and write songs about tobacco harms and the law which is there to penalise offenders once full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act and it’s Regulations are in force. We are very proud of the creativity that we observed in the nearly 400 entries and the five finalists who got the prizes to inspire and encouragement them to do more.
We are in the Yuletide period. Is there likely an uptick in tobacco use?
Going by past observances, we can say so. The Yuletide is the season that we have the most parties, concerts, music shows etc. As we have said time and again, manufacturers of consumer goods love this season even more than those of us who know the season is for spiritual rejuvenation, stocktaking and showing love. But theirs is for a different reason because it is a season they exploit maximally to push new products to consumers so that they make mega profits. The tobacco industry is not left out of this too. Our findings for years have shown that they use this season to get innocent and unsuspecting youths introduced to tobacco and get them addicted to these lethal products. In the recent past there were secret smoking parties in Lagos, Abuja and other states of the federation where new smokers were invited to parties and encouraged to experiment smoking. One thing we should always keep in mind is that the tobacco industry is an ingenious industry always innovating on how to remain in the business of addiction. That is why we are monitoring what they are doing this season to alert the unsuspecting public and the government which has the onerous task of checking their excesses.
In the US there have been cases of vaping deaths. Is it likely they will happen here too?
Not only in the US, but also UK any I think Australia. The vaping deaths did not come to us as a suprise because the products are from the same industry that for years hid the truth about tobacco harms. Aside the vaping-related deaths there have been hospitalisations arising from inhalation of some of the chemicals in the products. Unfortunately the tobacco industry manipulates technology to further their harmful business. The ease of access to the internet where almost anything can be sold or purchased makes Nigeria and particularly our youths vulnerable to similar occurrences. As you know, Nigeria is the largest market for the tobacco industry on the continent plus we have a huge number of youths that are abreast with current global trends and eager to experiment. That why we have called on the federal government to ban e-cigarettes, Shisha and other so-called less harmful products which are turning out to be as lethal as cigarettes. The UK this month banned e-cigarettes sold via social media or promoted through influencers. That is the right step. Those are the kinds of actions we expect our government through the Ministry of Health to take.
Not much has been heard about implementation of the National Tobacco Control Law. What is happening at the federal level?
It is unfortunate that seven months after the last National Assembly approved the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 the federal government is yet to gazette it. We are perplexed about this delay because as we all know, delay is dangerous. Every minute counts. Lives are at stake. Between May when the law was passed and now, the tobacco industry has been very busy entrenching their hold on our systems and especially ingratiating themselves with public officials in key sectors of the economy. In October British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) was everywhere talking Strategic Development Goals (SDG) and how they can boost agriculture in Nigeria. Is that not strange? They even partnered the Lagos government in organising a Food Fair where farm produce were packaged in the colours and logo. In these subtle way they try to portray themselves as stakeholders when in actual fact their major product – tobacco, unleashes death and destruction. That’s why we have voiced our concern on the delay in gazette of the tobacco regulation. It is only when those on government realise the magnitude of the problem that is at hand that they can move to action. As we know, most youths who take to crime take stimulants to harden themselves. Most start with cigarettes which seemingly seems mild but is not because of the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals they contain and the nicotine which makes them go back to it again and again until it destroys their system and makes them a liability to themselves and us. Useful resources are then channeled into making them well again, often without success. It’s a hydra-headed problem. That’s why our demand that the federal government gifting Nigerians the gazette of the Regulations as a Christmas or end of year gift is not too much to ask.
Do you suspect the tobacco industry has a hand in the delay?
Nothing is impossible but we hope not. The tobacco industry will do anything to frustrate regulating their business. In other climes we have even seen the industry go to court to ensure they are left to their lethal business which is multi billion dollar. We are watching and we expect the federal government to know that the whole world and particularly other African governments are watching how we go about implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act and the Regulations when they are finally gazetted. We expect that the same enthusiasm that the National Assembly put into passing the Regulations in May should be deployed into this so that agencies like the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) will be emboldened to begin speedy enforcement. Time is of essence and the government must realise this.