19 June 2017

Nigeria: Remember, There Is a National Tobacco Law

opinion

There seems to be a national amnesia about the existence of a tobacco control law in Nigeria. This is despite the fact that the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) was enacted only in 2015. The law provides a legal framework for the production, importation, distribution, sale and consumption of tobacco in the country.

Perhaps, what jolts most Nigerians out of such forgetfulness is the occasional call for the implementation of the law and the campaign against smoking. Notably, similar laws have been enacted in some states of the federation. While the state laws on tobacco often centre on prohibition of public smoking, the NTCA examines wider issues related to the tobacco business in Nigeria.

Like every other law, the enforcement of NTCA is imperative. Part XI of the law lays down its enforcement framework and the agencies saddled with the task. The law stipulates specific penalties for the breach of its provisions. For instance, Article 34 of Part XI is dedicated to penalties and applicable fines for violations. Also, Article 35 allows for search warrants to be procured for inspection of dwelling places suspected of harbouring illegal or substandard tobacco or tobacco products.

Therefore, the appropriate authorities are expected to fashion out an implementation model, and where enforcement is needed they should not shirk from applying it. Enforcement is very critical to the implementation of a legislation, without which it becomes ineffectual. Also, the choice of the appropriate enforcement authority and mechanism is crucial and can vary from country to country. In Nigeria, the NTCA states, "The police or any other law enforcement of government shall have the duty to inspect and investigate complaints and take appropriate action under the Act and in regulations made under this Act." It further prescribes that "The Minister may designate authorized officers for the purpose of implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Act."

At this point, there is need to consider if it is beneficial to use existing legislative enforcement authorities or to create new ones. Whatever the case may be, the authorities saddled with enforcement of the law must not be seen to have any bias for or against the tobacco industry. In addition to having a grasp of the legislation, such bodies should be competent and sufficiently trained to enforce the law effectively.

Another scheme that can be used to support effective tobacco regulation is compliance promotion. Sadly, very little seems to have been achieved in this area since the enactment of the law. Compliance promotion can be achieved through the provision of information, education and technical assistance, which helps to eliminate barriers to compliance.

With adequate compliance promotion, public awareness is enhanced regarding the enforcement of the NTCA. For instance, aspects of the law prohibiting people from smoking in certain public areas make it clear for businesses to communicate to staff and visitors where they can smoke and where they are prohibited from doing so. The maintenance of a hotline for public reporting of violations is another lofty approach.

A fact that must not be lost on Nigerians is that cigarette consumption is a lifestyle. Thus, it stands contrary to reason to call for its ban. Any attempt at legislating against individuals' lifestyle choices will amount to waste of taxpayers' resources. Being a legal product, the focus should not be on prohibition of the product as often agitated for by the anti-tobacco groups. Rather, priority should be accorded to implementing and promoting policies that can ensure the tobacco industry is well regulated. This will help achieve the intended goal, which includes protecting non smokers and underage persons from the risk of smoking, reducing the prevalence of smoking, enforcing smoking regulation and at the same time ensuring the nation benefits from localising production.

More important, as tobacco industry watchdogs, NGOs and anti-tobacco advocacy groups, beyond agitating for a ban on tobacco products and calling out tobacco manufacturers, can lend support to the implementation of the NTCA. Therefore, all stakeholders in the health sector and tobacco industry should support the objective of ensuring the effective implementation of practical tobacco control measures. However, it must be emphasized that these measures should proportionately and adequately combat smoking activity without unjustifiably limiting any rights or objectives.

The NTCA should not be made to look like another exercise in futility and a legal document gathering dust in law libraries.

Adetuberu lives in Lagos.

Nigeria

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