Tobacco control groups in Nigeria have urged the National Assembly to resist on-going attempts by the tobacco industry to truncate the passage of the draft National Tobacco Control Regulations.
The Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in a joint statement issued in Abuja Wednesday called on Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara to repel clandestine activities of the tobacco industry to water-down the draft Regulations.
"We have been monitoring the processes after the adoption of the draft Regulations on the floor of the House of Representatives and are shocked by the delay in transmitting the draft Regulations to the Senate for concurrence," the statement read.
"Equally worrying are reports that the draft Regulations being sent to the Senate are being doctored to exclude some key provisions as approved on the floor of the House of Representatives and reflected in the record of the Votes and Proceedings."
Tobacco industry 'striking again'
Nigeria's tobacco control legislation came into existence in 2015, signed into law by former president Goodluck Jonathan after years of delays.
But its implementation has been stalled due to a controversial clause within which says the law requires parliamentary approval of regulations - which cover about 70 percent of implementation needs of the Act - before enforcement.2
In 2017, the health minister, Isaac Adewole, outlined nine key provisions of the legislation, which do not need the regulations, for implementation.
The provisions included the prohibition of the sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below age 18 as well as a ban tobacco advertising among others.
But tobacco control activists say the approval of the draft regulations by parliament remains a key strategy towards enforcing the law.
Last month, the House of Representatives Committee on Delegated Legislation held an interactive session on the NTC Regulation 2018.
At the session, the Federal Ministry of Health on Thursday joined forces with tobacco control groups to push for the approval of the draft Regulations. Some of the critical sections approved include: all tobacco products must carry pictorial health warning of 50 per cent on all principal display areas which will automatically increase to 80 per cent after four years, licensing of all tobacco products including variants by the Federal Ministry of Health, amongst others.
Tobacco control advocates say recent events around the draft regulations are reminiscent of pre-2011 tobacco-industry-influenced moves when, despite the passage of the tobacco bill by both houses of the National Assembly, it was not signed into law before the assembly wound down.
"To us, the tobacco industry is striking again," said Akinbode Oluwafemi, ERA/FoEN Deputy Executive Director.
"Proper due process was followed and respected all along, and all parties were duly consulted but we know the tobacco industry will always act in bad faith to compromise any law aimed at reducing smoking and its attendant harms and economic costs.
"The National Assembly must once and for all, draw the line and side with the health of Nigerians as well as protect them from an industry that is killing 16,100 Nigerians every year."
The NTCA Alliance Coordinator, Oluseun Esan said: "The eighth National Assembly is at a critical period and we have seen the wave of bills that were given expedited passage. We wonder why the Tobacco Control Regulations have not enjoyed similar treatment.
"Our plea is that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House Representatives step into this issue personally and stand with public good. Nigerians are watching and indeed the global public health community is also watching to see how the eighth National Assembly treats this very important issue.
"We restate our confidence that the leadership will do the needful by approving strong Regulations as approved on the floor of the House of Representatives; that is the Public Health legacy Nigerians need from Senator Saraki and Honourable Dogara.
The draft National Tobacco Control Regulations provide clarity and details for the enforcement of the National Tobacco Control Bill, 2015 signed into Law under President Goodluck Jonathan's administration.
However, Section 39 (2), of the Act provides that draft Regulations for the full implementation of the Act must be sent back to the National Assembly for approval.
The groups want the Senate to concur to the draft Regulations approved by the House of Representatives before the expiration of the term of the current National Assembly on June 6.