By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Thomas Gende (not real name) has been smoking for 43 years. He said he was introduced to smoking while in his first year in Junior Secondary School (JSS1).
Gende, said at that early stage, he, and other youngsters didn’t know its health implications, but that they were only interested in the social activities and other exposures that comes with the activities of smoking.
“At that stage, the senior who introduced us to smoking also introduced us to other social activities in and out of school. By the time we got to JSS3, we were already performing on stage at the famous university of Jos and other places in the city.
“Smoking became a part of everything I do on daily basis. It was not something I enjoyed but it was something I found myself doing nonstop”.
Gende, who is currently in the creative industry in Lagos said, “the creative industry currently creates space for people to smoke cigarettes, weed, alcohol and other substances to ease the stress of work. For me, cigarette has a way of calming me whenever I have a lot of work to do. It is not as if I love smoking, but it is hard because of my long-time history. I have tried severally to stop, and I have also reduced the number of sticks I smoke in a day. I am sure I will stop some day.
On the Graphic Health Warnings on tobacco products, he said, “We do see the picture warnings on the packs. It is only a blind man that cannot see, but I have never seen a blind man smoking. As we speak, I even have it on my table”.
However, he said there are some packs that do not have the graphics health warning inscription on them.
“Some of the packs look very attractive while some are very slim. It is very hard at times to see the advocacy on the packs.
“In my experience, I have also observed that some tobacco companies organised road shows and music programmes, but when you enter, the major purpose of the event is to sell tobacco products. I have attended several of those events and I can tell you that this people’s creativity is top notch.
“Also, there are low-income earners who buy only single cigarette sticks. Those people might not necessarily see the pictorial warnings on the packs. I also know that there are so many in the rural areas who don’t know how to read”, he said.
“But currently, these categories of people who are mostly illiterates and rural dwellers are often left to their fate”, said Solomon Sunday, a health expert.
On the activities of Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), he said he is not aware of their work in that area.
“I have not heard of that name before, and I have never seen a government agency carrying out enforcement or educating smokers on the effects of the products.
“I think a lot needs to be done to curtail the activities of the producers who only redesign the packs without bold inscriptions. If there is an agency of government charged with such responsibility, then that agency needs to wake up from its slumber to enforce the laws in place.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in partnership with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, carried out enforcement exercises in the Federal Capital Territory in 2021, and in Lagos, Kano, and Cross River States in 2022.
At the event in Kano, the Programme Officer of NTCA, Chibuike Nwokorie, told reporters that the FCCPC is leading the implementation and enforcement of the National Tobacco Act 2015.
“In 2015, the National Tobacco Act was passed and signed into law, since then, the enforcement commenced in Abuja and Lagos, and now it arrived in Kano for enforcement.
“While on the field for enforcement in Kano, a lot of cigarettes are being sold without the graphics health warning, this shows that the Tobacco Industries are deceiving Nigerians by making sure they comply with the law only in Abuja while in other states they are still having businesses as usual.
Judging by this, many at the court of public opinion said the agency should step up its enforcement activities in every part of the country.
Jerry Daks, an activist based in Jos said the agency is not known by many Nigerians. He said they need to restrategise on their enforcement activities.
“Any agency of government charged with this responsibility should not be in the shadows. Its activities should be seen, and the impact felt. I searched for them recently online and didn’t see anything much about the agency and its activities. This is a minus in the fight against those tobacco companies flouting our laws.
“I have taken time to check the tobacco products here in Jos, and I can tell you for free that a lot needs to be done to curtail the activities of those killing our younger generation. I have seen a lot of attractive packs with tiny warning which is not bold enough for anyone to see. We have seen a lot of redesigning on the packs, but the message needs to get to everywhere.
“Also, what if the producers decide to boycott the city centres and concentrate on the rural areas, how are we going to fight it. There should be more enforcements in the rural areas to see the kind of products that are taken to those places”.
On her part, Rifkatu Yusuf, a media consultant, said the tobacco industries are as crafty as the serpent and know exactly what they are doing.
“I can tell you that the tobacco industries are deliberately repackaging to attract more customers than before. They know we are gullible and that we have issues when it comes to enforcing our laws.
“These things cannot happen in saner climes where people are serious about carrying out their responsibilities. The responsible agency needs to charge up to its responsibilities and not to sit in the office when it is supposed to be on the field.
“I think the enforcement is not working in so many fronts that is why we are still talking about it. People have the right to know what the industry is doing and what the government is also doing to tame their activities.”
“There’s no doubt that the graphic health warning policy will go a long way in preventing initiation to smoking by young people. We believe however that there are many reasons delaying simultaneous enforcement of the policy nationwide”, said Philip Jakpor, Director of Programmes at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA).
He added that, “We are hopeful that under the new administration the issues will be addressed so that the policy will make the desired impact”.
On his part, Paul Ashibel, Communications Officer at NTCA, said FCCPC is doing its best, especially when it comes to enforcing the policy.
He said there are other agencies who are also mandated to carry out these enforcements but have not done much.
He added that the next batch of graphic health warnings are due for roll out.
“The law stipulates that after the initial period for the first batch of graphic health warnings, a new set of health warnings and messages shall be prescribed by the Ministry (Federal Ministry of Health) every two years to be used on the packaging or labelling of tobacco products. Accordingly, the first batch of graphic warnings which were issued on June 23, 2021, are due for change by June 23, 2023.
Commendably, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has been active in the enforcement of the policy, partnering with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance”.
When contacted to speak on its activities, the Executive Vice Chairman, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Babatunde Irukera, referred our reporter to Ondaje Ijagwu, the agency’s Public Relations Officer, saying he will be the best person to respond to the issues.
On his part, the PRO told our reporter to call Mr. Marvin Nadah whom he said is the right person to discuss issues relating to the activities of the commission.
When contacted, Marvin promised to discuss with Ondaje before responding to our reporter. But Marvin is yet pickup his calls or respond to questions sent to him via WhatsApp.
Judging by its long silence, commentators may infer that the agency is not bold to speak on its activities. But whether things will change this year, it is left to be seen; like they say in Israel, “until after the holiday”.
By Tobias Lengnan Dapam