Clinical Psychologist Calls for Policies to Reduce Tobacco Consumption

NTCA: Graphic Health Warnings Can Reduce Costs

According to the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), a full implementation of the graphic health warnings policy on cigarette and other tobacco brands will end 11,744 deaths caused by tobacco use; prevent 32,608 illnesses attributed to tobacco use and save the country ₦6,745,786 million in healthcare costs annually.

To this end, it urged the Standards Organizations of Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigeria Police Force, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp, and all agencies tasked with enforcement of tobacco control laws to save Nigerians by beginning the enforcement of the graphic health warnings policy without delay on all tobacco products.

According to the law on tobacco control, every tobacco company is expected to put a health advisory in the form of graphics on their products warning prospective buyers of possible health dangers. This graphic health warning is to be changed every two years with a new message.

Mr. Chibuike Nwokorie who spoke on behalf of the Chairman of Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance at a media briefing in Abuja on Thursday said that the government should consider the menace of tobacco consumption on the health and well-being of Nigerians and quickly take steps to enforce the Tobacco Control Act.

He said the National Tobacco Control Act gave a moratorium of 150 days before enforcement, during which tobacco companies are expected to phase out products bearing the outdated warnings and the moratorium period ended on November 20 2023, marking the start of enforcement of the new set of warnings.

He explained that the first set of the two-year rotational warnings; a photo showing the diseased lungs of a smoker, and the healthy lungs of a non-smoker, expired on June 23rd, 2023.

Nwokorie also said that the current set of graphic health warnings; an image showing mouth cancer caused by tobacco use was approved by the Federal Ministry of Health and came into effect in June 2023.

While lamenting the consequences of poor enforcement of the control measures, Nwokorie said: “That a recent study by the Institute of Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy in collaboration with an indigenous research group, the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa; a full implementation of the graphic health warnings policy will end 11,744 deaths caused by tobacco use; prevent 32,608 illnesses attributed to tobacco use and save the country ₦6,745,786 million in healthcare costs annually’.

To monitor compliance with this critical policy, he said that NTCA has activated Alliance members in the Federal Capital Territory, also, in Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Nasarawa, Kano, Adamawa, and Oyo States to carry out market surveys to determine the level of compliance within their states.

“The survey results show that while some cigarette packs bear the new sets of warnings, some still carry the outdated pictorial warning, and worse still, a sizeable number of packs bear the very old ‘text-only’ warnings. The survey also revealed that compliance on other tobacco products such as shisha, cigars, snuff, and cigarillos is almost nonexistent,” he said.

Nwokorie said that one major obstacle to tobacco control in Nigeria is the tobacco industry’s interference in policy-making processes. He accused the tobacco industry of employing various tactics, such as lobbying and strategic marketing, to influence decision-makers to dilute the impact of tobacco control measures.

Associate Director for Capacity Strengthening, Africa Tobacco Control Programme, Mrs. Hilda Ochefu said that things are not going well with regard to the revision of the graphic health warnings put on tobacco products sold in Nigeria.

She expressed worry that the country is lagging behind other African countries in the enforcement of tobacco control measures.

For instance, she noted that whereas a country like Senegal which signed the same legislation with Nigeria in 2015, the country has had seven health warning revisions while Nigeria is battling with three rounds of revisions and questioned why it was proving difficult for the government and it’s relevant agencies to compel the tobacco companies to implement the graphic health warning.

Ochefu accused tobacco companies of flagrant abuse of the law by refusing to keep to the November deadline for revision of the graphic health advisory meant to discourage the youths from taking to tobacco consumption.

Mr. Michael Olaniyan, the Country Director of the Tobacco Control Programme, lamented that Nigeria, in his opinion,  has witnessed what he described as retrogression in the implementation of the rotational graphic health warning meant to get tobacco companies to adequately alert the public of the health implications of tobacco products.