28 Jun 2019
A blog by Olu’Seun Esan, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance
The unacceptably high global noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) burden highlighted by the latest data in the WHO Noncommunicable Diseases Country Profiles report is not entirely surprising. The question is, how much more evidence and warnings from civil society will it take for governments to implement the WHO “best buys” for NCDs and invest in proven interventions according to national needs or priorities?
In Nigeria, tobacco control efforts received a significant boost with the enactment of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015 to regulate all aspects of tobacco control including smoke free areas, packaging, advertising, and related matters such as the National Tobacco Control Committee and the tobacco control fund.
Section 39 of the law (1) empowers the Minister of Health to make regulations necessary or appropriate to accomplish the objectives of the Act, (2) subject to the approval of both Houses of the National assembly – a caveat that civil society advocates in the country have continued to question because it delays action and provides an opportunity for tobacco industry interference.
The escalating burden of NCDs, particularly for low- and middle-income countries requires immediate and bold action. This is not the time for a “business as usual” approach.
The Nigerian Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA) and several other civil society actors are doing their part by collaborating with the Federal Government for an effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015.
NTCA recently launched a campaign to promote tobacco control as a priority for the sustainable development agenda in Nigeria. Advocates worked with the Office of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the country and hosted strategy sessions for integrating tobacco control into the various activities of all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies working on sustainable development in the country.
NTCA and law enforcement agencies undertook a tour of three major cities in the last few months to educate people on the bans of sale of tobacco to/by minors, sale of cigarettes in single sticks and sale of flavoured tobacco products including shisha.
NTCA is at the forefront of the groups campaigning for the Federal Government to earmark tobacco tax revenues for health purposes. Tobacco taxation is an essential part of tobacco control efforts in Nigeria because of its potential to generate significant revenue which can be invested in fighting noncommunicable diseases.
The Federal Government introduced a new tax regime for tobacco products in 2018. In addition to a 20 percent ad-valorem tax rate, each stick of cigarette attracted one naira specific rate per stick; that is N20 per pack of 20 sticks. This year, tobacco attracts two naira specific rate per stick or N40 per pack of 20 sticks. By 2020, tobacco would begin to attract N2.90 kobo specific rate per stick or N58 per pack of 20 sticks.
Tobacco taxation among other proven interventions will set Nigeria on the path to play its part in the global efforts to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030.
With its population size, historically weak tobacco control laws and lack of political will, Nigeria has been an attractive destination for the tobacco industry in Africa. A 2013 Global Adult Tobacco Survey estimated that 4.5 million Nigerian adults used tobacco products. The tobacco industry will continue to target the country with harmful tobacco products.
To guard against any interference with Nigeria’s public health policy making process, the Federal Government should renew its commitment to fully implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), including its Article 5.3.
The economic cost to low- and middle-income countries from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases are estimated to surpass US$ 7 trillion over the period 2011-2025, if the status quo remains. The NCDs menace is everybody’s problem.
The WHO NCDs Country Profiles report’s findings could not be louder and clearer. “By implementing all 16 of the WHO “best buys” in all 194 Member States, a total of 9.6 million premature deaths could be avoided by 2025.”
A key objective of the WHO “best buys” is to reduce tobacco use, a major risk factor for NCDs by strengthening the implementation of the tobacco control measures set out in the WHO FCTC.
Every year, more than 16,100 Nigerians are killed by tobacco caused disease. The Federal Government can save 134,500 lives by 2025 by implementing all of the WHO Best Buys.
 Noncommunicable diseases country profiles 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.