By Paul Ashibel

The 2024 Appropriation Bill titled “Budget of Renewed Hope” before the National Assembly presents a critical opportunity to prioritize and significantly increase allocations for tobacco control initiatives. With the detrimental impact of tobacco on public health and the economy, this move can pave the way for transformative measures and action.

Tobacco use remains a significant public health concern globally, contributing to a myriad of preventable diseases and placing a substantial burden on healthcare systems. Nigeria, as Africa’s most populous nation, is not immune to this challenge. In recent years, strides have been made in the formulation of tobacco control laws, specifically the National Tobacco Control Act enacted in 2015 (NTC Act), which established the Tobacco Control Fund, and the National Tobacco Control Regulations (NTC Regulations) approved in 2019. However, their effective implementation has often been hindered by inadequate funding.

The consumption of tobacco is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, and several types of cancers. In Nigeria, where healthcare resources are already stretched, the increasing prevalence of these diseases poses a substantial threat to the well-being of the population. By bolstering budgetary allocations for tobacco control, the government can proactively address the root cause of numerous health issues, ultimately alleviating the strain on the healthcare system.

Nigeria has made commendable progress in enacting legislation aimed at curbing tobacco use. Also, until recently, tobacco control was subsumed under other headings in the national budget, it is therefore commendable that tobacco control now has a dedicated budget line. However, allocation has been mostly meagre and unable to support robust implementation.

Increased budgetary allocation would empower regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies to monitor and enforce compliance more rigorously. This, in turn, would deter the tobacco industry from circumventing regulations and strengthen the overall impact of tobacco control measures.

By investing in tobacco control, the government can empower citizens, especially young people to make informed choices, significantly reduce the prevalence of tobacco consumption and its associated health risks. Measures such as providing alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers, nationwide enforcement of graphic health warnings on tobacco product packs and smoke-free public places, among other important measures have shown to be efficient when resources are dedicated to their implementation.

As a member of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), Nigeria has committed to implementing evidence-based strategies for tobacco control. Increasing budgetary allocation aligns with international best practices and demonstrates Nigeria’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations under the FCTC. This commitment not only enhances Nigeria’s global standing but also contributes to a collaborative effort in combating the trans-boundary challenges posed by tobacco use.

The 2024 Appropriation Bill offers a unique window of opportunity to prioritize tobacco control in Nigeria. By increasing allocations for tobacco control, the nation can take a significant stride toward safeguarding public health, bolstering the economy, and fulfilling its international commitments. This is also an opportunity for lawmakers as concerned parents to protect the health of their wards and the general population.
It is also pertinent that in compliance with the NTC Act and NTC Regulations, all monies budgeted for tobacco control should be remitted into the Tobacco Control Fund account for proper utilization and accountability.
This moment demands decisive action by our respected lawmakers; the public health community and Nigerians are watching with hopeful eyes.
Paul Ashibel works with Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, and he writes from Abuja.

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