NTCA Nigeria

Special Interview: FG’s funding for anti-tobacco campaign insufficient –NTCA

From Idu Jude, Abuja

Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), a network of Civil Society Organisations, has said the funding from the federal government for the anti-tobacco war is inadequate compared to the level of work they have put in to create awareness on the dangers of smoking. 

The chairman of NTCA and the executive director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation (CAPA), Oluwafemi Akinbode, told Daily Sun that if the anti-tobacco war is effective, it would help Nigeria solve the health hazards associated with tobacco consumption. He also said that efforts are in place to ensure the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other relevant agencies take the anti-tobacco campaign to the 774 local government authorities. He speaks more about NTCA.

What has this alliance achieved in terms of tobacco control in Nigeria?

We have achieved a lot nationally and internationally for over two decades. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a global document for the control and production of the product globally. Nigeria signed the treaty in 2004 and rectified it in 2005 and we have continued to work to see how we can fully domestic that treaty and that led us to over a decade of work on the National Tobacco Control Act. In 2015, the Act was approved and signed into law then we also did the follow-up and supported the government in finalising the set of regulations called the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019. The stage we are now is the enforcement of the provisions of those laws in Nigeria.There are several aspects to it. There is the ban on sponsorship, promotional/ advertisement, the one we call TAPS, which has lots of things to do with labeling and packaging of products. There are other critical issues like tobacco funding and several administrative issues like licensing and smoke-free public places. 

As it were, we would say that as a country, we have recorded great success in tobacco control and I can say that sometimes, it is necessary to take a pause and take count of your success. In that regard, Nigerians could remember that there used to be concerts which were being sponsored called ‘Live in Lagos, Wet in Kano, grab the Mike, and Benson and Hedges’s Golden Tone’. Those days, there were billboards all over Nigeria including branded vehicles. All those things are gone due to our efforts and we all know that they were used to distract our youths.

Again many Nigerians can see that if anyone picks a pack of cigarette, he or she could see pictures of what damage it does to the body. These are results of years of advocacy with collaborative work with the CSOs and government agencies and we are most importantly happy about the fact that the Nigerian government has also created the National Tobacco Control Committee, which is the committee with the power to set the agenda for tobacco control policies in Nigeria.

Here, we have a platform where different government agencies meet to discuss issues relating to tobacco control in Nigeria and we made tremendous progress as a nation. However, it must be clearly stated that we are not there yet.

There are issues that I mentioned like smoking in public places, which is not being enforced because the law allows some weaknesses that need to be addressed. Also the critical issue of tobacco funding.  The National Tobacco Control Act 2015, provides that the tobacco control fund should be domiciled at the Ministry of Health. The law also provides how it could be funded and the fact remains that we are not satisfied with the pace of tobacco funding. If you take a look at the heterogeneity of Nigeria, we think that the Nigerian government could do more to carry this message across and down to the people.

Nigeria has been flooded with noncombustible products including electronic cigarettes, vaping, shisha, and the rest of them. We think that the government should come down to the areas where we need to activate the current law that also relates to these products and where necessary should restrict the penetration of these new products.So that is where we are as a country. There are other areas we have been working on like the smoke-free Nollywood. We noticed that when the ban on tobacco sponsorship came into effect, the tobacco industry clandestinely moved towards the entertainment industries and we began to see lots of smoking during movies and skits and a lot of music videos which are usually about smoking. Seeing that, we began to talk to the government again. I believe we are making tremendous progress in terms of talking to tobacco companies about exploiting the entertainment industries and influencing kids and that we all need to do something about it. The most interesting thing here is that all the people we engaged including the actors guild, producers and the censors board were so receptive and very concerned about the campaign. They think that Nigeria as a country needs to do something. Be that as it may, Nigeria is a vast country and a lot needs to be done.

How many states have domesticated the anti-tobacco law?

The law is a federal law and all laws are applicable across the entire state. What we are expecting is that certain states will begin to enforce and not forget that health is on the concurrent list. We have seen states like Lagos already implementing smoke-free laws. Osun and Rivers also did and we know that Kano has banned shisha smoking in the state.  So one of the things was are saying is that we want some of these states to be more proactive in terms of action to curtail smoking because of the risk and of course, there is evidence to show that smoking has killed many people through non-communicable diseases like hypertension, stroke and so on. So, in this period that the nation is experiencing an economic downturn, it is necessary that the government assists Nigerians to spend their monies wisely and not compromise their health. They need to be productive and spend less money on the treatment of diseases.

Tobacco control funding

The tobacco control fund is an Act already. It was created by law and put under the Ministry of Health. The ministry does not generate funds, so they need a federal allocation to put money into it. But progress has been made in that the infrastructure to house the fund is already there but the federal government needs to make tobacco control a priority and begin to allocate funding to them appropriately.Recall that we just moved from N4.7 million in 2023 to N10 million in 2024 and some people would say it is progress, which is a great relief for the ministry as it has started making budget appropriations for tobacco control. Do not forget that it took us years to be able to have a budget line and people who are familiar with budgeting understand how all these things are done.

The first thing to achieve is to be able to create a budget line which means you are now recognised to spend under that particular heading. We got to that and also got very minimal allocation despite that, we say thank you to the federal government but the ministry needs more because N10million is not just enough. I don’t even know what they want the ministry to do with it. We know that the committee used to have about four meetings a year and I don’t think such money is even enough to organise the meetings in a year. These consists of regional, international and national meetings. I don’t think that the money is enough to fight the war on tobacco control not to talk of attending programs abroad. So the mechanism is there, but more resources need to get into that wallet.

As CSOs, we did not just stop at supporting the government in getting this done. We are collaborating with every agency that has something to do with the war against tobacco importation in the country. We employ the multi-sectorial approach where we ensure that everyone is carried along because we need to reduce the disease associated with tobacco. We are also working with the ministry of finance on the issue of tobacco taxes because tobacco products are sold cheaply in Nigeria to the affordability of every little boy or girl. The government imposes taxes on alcohol, sugar, and so on, why not increase taxes on tobacco?

It would be a win-win situation. A win for the citizens because they are gonna be healthy, and also a win for the government because it gonna make more money. I wouldn’t be asking the ministry to furnish us with how they spent the funds provided by the government. To me, it is inconsequential and I know the ministry did a lot of programs to claim the money. I knew what they did last year and that was beyond what we are talking about. Also, I know the efforts people in the ministry are making to ensure that tobacco control is achieved. In my estimate, the money is being judiciously spent from what I saw.

What have you been able to achieve in the area of tobacco control?

I am the chairman of NTCA and the alliance has done much. There are a lot of us who are top in policy advocacy, and media advocacy but there are those who focus on youths. I am also aware that there are several youth empowerment programs created around the country. I am aware that there is going to be another youth empowerment program in Lagos, Kano and several higher institutions across the country in that regard.

While we focus on our own, so many people are in the hospitals researching the same issue in healthcare. When some of us started, it was like we were lonely voices in the wilderness but today, there are several associates working on tobacco control and even the NOA is planning to be part of it. Don’t forget that NOA has its offices at all the 774 local governments in Nigeria, so they have the mechanism to easily get to the grassroots.

What is your level of collaboration with state governors on fighting child labor involving cultivation of tobacco?

There is not a lot of tobacco cultivation going on in Nigeria. Last year, I traveled on a fact-finding mission to Oke-Ogun to search for where such farms exist but we discovered that these companies buy their raw materials elsewhere and they created an impression that if the government stopped them, tobacco farmers would die of hunger. We challenged them to tell us how many tobacco farmers are in Nigeria. I can tell you and anybody in Oke-Ogun can tell you that those farms have disappeared because cassava farming has more commercial value and that is good news for us. However, we have also said this over and over again that what the government needs to do is create a program that would allow tobacco farmers to shift to food crops which is what is going on in other countries. In Oke-Ogun, the houses which used to be used for tobacco are now used for frying garri. We have pictures of all these things.

About using children to work on tobacco farms, we have highlighted this several times that it was years back, and when we reported that to the National Assembly, the companies denied it. However, these are issues we need to stress that right from cultivation to consumption, tobacco is not good for humans.

Is there need for amendment of the Tobacco Control Act?

When we started in 2004, some of the issues were not there, but are there today due to the way things change. So we need to change some certain things. Several loopholes may be difficult for the industry to exploit. Again social media was not as prevalent as they are now. What we call the new products were not as prevalent as they are today. So, we need to amend the laws to cover these gaps we have discovered. For instance, fees for licenses that were not clearly defined and several sections of the Act need to be upgraded. We are just NGOs and we cannot go to the National Assembly with a bill, rather we would continue to engage the stakeholders and through the members of the National Assembly who are ready to champion them to help push our requests.

First published by Daily Sun


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