By Olu’Seun Esan
Evidence abounds that the tobacco industry targets low and middle-income countries and continues to invest heavily in the promotion of its harmful products in these countries. Nigeria is particularly a target of the industry owing to many reasons.
Nigerias has a huge population, high youth population, high rate of youth unemployment, weak tobacco control legislations, weak institutions, and low political will. Nigeria has an estimated population of 200 million people and high poverty index (53.7% in 2018).
With the country yet to begin the implementation of tobacco control measures like smoke-free public places, high taxation of tobacco products, graphic health warnings, tax earmarking, ban of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, etc; a lot of work still needs to be done to protect its population from tobacco harms.
The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2012 revealed that 10.0% of men, 1.1% of women, and 5.6% overall (4.5 million adults) use tobacco products in the country. The Tobacco Atlas puts adult tobacco use at 13.7%, accounting for more than seven million adults in 2015.
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Tobacco may be responsible for up to 246 deaths among men weekly in Nigeria. With the morbidity and mortality caused by tobacco use in the country, the loss in economic terms to individuals, families and the country is better imagined.
The enactment of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act in 2015 gave tobacco control efforts in the country a huge boost. The law, which covered a lot of areas in tobacco control, was expected to give impetus to regulatory ministries, departments, and agencies as well as advocates to stall the tobacco industry antics to remain in business.
The law has 12 parts and 46 sections. It provided for the National Tobacco Control Committee, Tobacco Control Fund, regulation of smoking, prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. It seeks to regulate tobacco product sales, contents and emission disclosures, product packaging and labelling, licensing, and enforcement, among others.
Section 39(3) of the law empowers the Minister of Health to make regulations on how the law will be implemented and such regulations must first be subjected to the approval of both chambers of the National Assembly; a provision that advocates in the country have continued to question.
The burden of Non-Communicable Diseases(NCDs) in Nigeria is high. The impact of NCDs is enormous and glaring. A research revealed that about five million Nigerians have died of NCDs as at 2015. Also, the economic cost of NCDs in Nigeria in 2005 was about $400 million (four hundred million dollars) from premature deaths due to NCDs.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of NCDs globally, hence robust all-encompassing tobacco control measures by the Government with collaboration with advocates and other stakeholders are fundamental.
This, among other measures, will set the country on the path to join global efforts at meeting a substantial proportion of the SDGs, especially SDG 3.4: Reducing by a third the number of premature deaths from NCDs by 2030. This is just 11 years away.
The National Tobacco Control Regulations approved in 2019 is yet to be implemented. If this happens, it will go a long way in addressing the NCDs challenge in the country.
To address the issue appropriately, the Federal Government must demonstrate seriousness in combating the menace of tobacco use. Reduction in NCDs will ultimately translate to gains in the achievement of the SDGs by the year 2030 since tobacco control is at the heart of the SDGs.
A country with enormous resources like Nigeria can do much more than it is doing now. There is no better alternative and time is of essence.
Esan works with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance.
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