In Defiance Of WHO Laws, Tobacco Industry Takes Advantage Of Weak Laws

By Odimegwu Onwumere
Children in Nigeria are smoking cigarettes according to a new report
Children in Nigeria are smoking cigarettes according to a new report

ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE uncovers in this report that the tobacco industry in Nigeria, even on the continent, continues to expertly exploit and circumvent legal loopholes to operate virtually unsupervised

Only tobacco manufacturers and sellers are permitted to market and promote tobacco products to "consenting" adults under Nigeria's Tobacco Control Laws. It is forbidden for any other party to do so. Tobacco sponsorship and its promotion are subject to a number of restrictions in accordance with the same legal gap that allows sponsorship of "consenting" adults.

Those who know better said all tobacco product packaging must include combined picture and text health warnings on 50% of all primary display areas. It was anticipated that the size of the picture and text warnings would increase by 60% starting in 2024. It is against the law to use misleading indications like color and phrases like "light" and "low tar" on packaging and labeling.

Due to funding limitations and clashes of interest, multi-sectorality and best buy strategies are not always incorporated into Nigerian tobacco control policies. Equally, the Federal Ministry of Health's current tobacco-related policies, which were developed with strong multi-sectoral engagement, cover all four of the WHO's "best buy" interventions.

Multi-sectoral engagement and "best buy" strategies, on the other hand, are restricted by other policies. In contrast to the WHO's long-standing prohibition against the tobacco industry participating in policy formulation, it was found that the Standards for Tobacco Control of 2014 were developed with industry participation.

Is tobacco smoking being ignored in favour of other substance abuse

"The tobacco industry in Nigeria continues to skillfully exploit and circumvent the gaps in the law to operate almost without supervision in the virtual space," Akinbode Oluwafemi, executive director of the non-governmental organization Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), stated.

Policymakers worried
This suggests that neglecting and failing to address these issues over time has hampered Nigeria's efforts to reduce tobacco use without success. It was anticipated that international guidelines would be incorporated into tobacco policy because smoking is a significant risk factor for non-communicable diseases.

Policymakers, practitioners in development, and health officials in Nigeria are becoming increasingly concerned recently about the trade in illicit tobacco products because of the detrimental social and economic repercussions on public health, government revenue, and criminal networks.

Despite that, tobacco companies consistently ignore plans for developing a national tobacco control policy that date back to the 1950s, regardless of the fact that a comprehensive Framework Convention on Tobacco Control FCTC-compliant policy was not developed until 2015, ten years after Nigeria signed the FCTC.

The corrupt tobacco companies queued up because the primary obstacles that slowed down the policy process were a lack of funding and a conflict of interest – protecting citizens from tobacco's harmful effects and economic benefits, for instance.

However, all four of the WHO's "best buy" interventions are covered by the current tobacco-related policies of the Federal Ministry of Health, which were developed with strong multi-sectoral engagement. On the contrary, other policies restrict multi-sectoral engagement and "best buy" strategies.

Atrocities by Tobacco industry
Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) says that foreign tobacco companies in Nigeria are using social media to avoid the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act (NTCA).

"Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is being used by the tobacco industry and its charitable arm to promote their activities on social media without mentioning the negative effects of their products," Oluwafemi stated.

The information was made public at a press conference that CAPPA held in Abuja on June 20, 2022, to mark the publication of its report titled "Tobacco Industry Capture of the Virtual Space in Nigeria."

The statement also revealed that tobacco sellers and distributors like Smokehubng and Dasmokehub aggressively promote sales of tobacco products on social media.

"They also use a smoking culture that mostly promotes content that shows Nigerian music icons smoking a lot," he said.

Through their charitable arm, the British Tobacco Nigeria Foundation, other Nigerian tobacco companies have been participating in online visibility activities "that laud their image and hide the harm in their products to attract favorable comments," according to the source.

“These activities have also included Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited, the British American Tobacco Company (BATCO), and other Nigerian tobacco companies.”

Leaders bribed
Even so, two 2021 reports assert that British American Tobacco bribed African leaders and others to harm public health. British American Tobacco (BAT) is also accused of bribing journalists and law enforcement personnel to allow the company to sabotage health policies on the continent, monopolize tobacco markets, and endanger lives.

This is in addition to the leaders of Africa. Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) published two analyses of documents from whistleblowers and court records conducted by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath that suggested that BAT allegedly used payments to dozens of individuals and possibly illegal surveillance to "tighten its already crushing market grip on Africa."

The report looked at a number of social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others, used by over 100 million Nigerians between 2016 and 2021 and discovered that British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), through its charitable arm, British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited (PMINL), and others, operate unchecked in the virtual space and use it to gain favorable public ratings while mentioning their products.

Illegal Sales
The WHO (2015) estimates that 600 billion cigarettes, or more than 10% of all cigarettes consumed globally, are sold on the illicit market each year. The prevalence of such commerce has detrimental impacts on society, especially in developing nations like Nigeria that already suffer from insufficient fiscal capacity and health care.

Experts said that about 10 billion in tax losses are anticipated in African countries like Nigeria, which will surely result in an increase in tobacco-related illnesses and fatalities.

It was discovered that the Standards for Tobacco Control of 2014 were developed with industry participation, in contrast to the WHO's long-standing prohibition against the tobacco industry participating in policy formulation.

According to the source, "both in its activities in several East and Central African countries and its aggressive tactics in South Africa," BAT "appeared to be selling cigarettes to Africans" as though it were above the law.

Breaking the laws
Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of CAPPA, stated that despite the NCTA's prohibition of such advertising and promotion, Nigerian tobacco companies have been breaking the law by using social media.

The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (TheICIR) reported that the STOP said that the reports showed that BAT had a mass surveillance operation and an informant network in South Africa. The reports also showed that BAT made questionable payments totaling $600,000 in ten additional African countries.

It stated that the company might have been able to influence health policy in important African nations thanks to the payments.

Suspicious payments
Tobacco taxes, on the other hand, are argued to be an essential component of a larger system for controlling tobacco use, such as border checks and a pathway-and-mark out system. This allows the government to avoid having to choose between the financial constraints imposed by the illegal tobacco trade and the harm that smoking cigarettes does to the public's health.

This was even as the source went further to say that after documents about BAT's work in East and Central Africa were investigated, it is also alleged that suspicious payments were made in Burundi, the Comoros, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. By allegedly making 236 payments totaling $601,502 between 2008 and 2013, BAT purportedly attempted to influence policy and sabotage competitors.

"The organization claims that BAT paid sources within the Kenya Revenue Authority more than $28,500 and an unidentified former justice minister more than $38,000 in an alleged exchange for information and assistance with BAT's efforts to prevent a rival company, SICPA, from winning the Codentify tender,” the source said.

The source also added that BAT gave $20,000 to the chair of a Ugandan parliamentary committee to supposedly "amend" a report about an investigation into Continental Tobacco Uganda.

Children in Nigeria are smoking cigarettes according to a new report

Conclusion: How it all started
An investigation found that tobacco is grown annually in Nigeria. In most cases, the leaves are processed in a variety of ways to smoke, chew, snuff, and extract nicotine.

“Cigars, pipes, and cigars are all common forms of tobacco,” said the source, adding that Nigeria has had a tobacco industry since around 1904, when it was introduced as an imported product.

According to data, “British American Tobacco (B.A.T.) later established a depot for local product distribution. Since 1935, when a pilot factory was established in an Osogbo British Cotton Growing Association (B.C.G.A.) building, tobacco cultivation in Nigeria has steadily increased.

“This resulted from responding to rising demand. According to researcher Di Domenico (1973), the Nigerian Tobacco Company (N.T.C.), which eventually succeeded B.A.T., was incorporated in 1951. Two years later, the larger factory in Ibadan opened.”

Consequently, Oluwafemi urged the government to penalize violators of tobacco control and tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) in accordance with the national tobacco control policy.

He thought that all ministries, departments, and agencies should stop working with the tobacco industry and its front groups. Accordingly, he advised the Nigerian government to shield public health policies regarding tobacco control from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

He stated that tobacco control advocates, policymakers, and Nigerian state authorities must take note of these emerging challenges and realities in order to confront and expose the tobacco industry's dominance of the virtual space.

· Onwumere writes from Rivers state via: [email protected]

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