Chairperson of the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC), Dr. Bridget Okoeguale, presided over the committee meeting which held between 9th and 13th of October 2023, at Freshland Hotel, Mararaba, in Nasarawa State, with the main objective of fulfilling its sundry obligations consistent with Section 5 of the Act, including capacity development of NATOCC members and stakeholders in preparation for the 10th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and the 3rd Session of the Meeting of Parties (MOP3) to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, scheduled to hold back-to-back from 20 – 30 November 2023, in Panama City, Panama.
The Committee noted that tobacco remains a major threat to public health, killing more than million people globally each year around the world, with more than 7 million of those deaths resulting from direct tobacco use and about 1.3 million resulting from non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. With 5.6% (4.5 million) Nigerians 15 years and older currently using tobacco products, and 29,472 deaths attributable to smoking in Nigeria.
Recognizing that Nigeria as a party to the WHO FCTC and member to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, is obligated to attend COP10 and MOP3, and to ensure that the country’s position is well articulated at the meetings.
The committee also observed with displeasure the apparent rise in volume of illicit and unlicensed tobacco products including new tobacco/nicotine ptoducts in the Nigeria market, and pursuant to Section 30 of the Act, charged the Fiscal Authority – the Federal Ministry of Finance and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to expediate action to implement a globally accepted digital Track and Trace System to curtail illicit trade in tobacco products. That in line with Section 29 (1) of the NTC Act, NCS to ensure that every corporation seeking customs clearance to manufacture or import or distribute tobacco or tobacco products must show tobacco business license duly signed by the Honourable Minister of Health. Also, NCS should ensure that Duty-Free Tobacco Products are not sold in non-duty-free zones.
Law enforcement agencies listed in the NTC Act, 2015 and Regulations 2019 were also to ensure that tobacco control provisions are also enforced while carrying out their statutory institutional functions.
Among other key issues, the committee noted that one area where human rights is being infringed upon is in tobacco farming, as there are countless reports of child labour and impoverishment of tobacco farmers due to the sharp practices of the tobacco industry and the extreme degradation to the lands used to farm tobacco. It thus encouraged the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, and other relevant stakeholders to develop a Strategy on alternative Agriculture for tobacco farmers, bearing in mind suitable alternatives as may be recommended by the tobacco farmers.
The Meeting had in attendance, the Chairperson of NATOCC, the Director/Head Public Health Department, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike; the National Coordinator, Non-Communicable Diseases Division, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Deborah Bako Odoh; the representatives of NATOCC from the Federal Ministries of Education; Agriculture and Rural Development; National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control; Nigeria Customs Service; Standards Organisation of Nigeria
(SON); Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance; Head Tobacco Control Unit, FMOH and staff of the Federal Ministry of Health. The meeting also had in attendance representatives of the WHO Country Office; Management Sciences for Health (MSH); Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); Centre for the Studies of the Economics of Africa (CSEA); and Cedars Refuge Foundation (CRF).