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November 4th, 2016:

Tobacco-control groups turn to billboard messages

Anti-tobacco groups in Nigeria Thursday unveiled a billboard in Abuja to press home demands for the adoption of Regulations for Implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 by the Nigerian government.

The unveiling came as the Federal Ministry of Health begins deliberations on regulations for the effective implementation of the Act which will be transmitted to the National Assembly for approval.

“Why are we putting up this billboard? And why this location? For us, the unveiling of this billboard is not the mere ceremony of a big and colourful advertisement,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

“It is not competition over a product. This is an innovation in getting our advocacy messages on public health to our esteemed lawmakers who have the onerous task of approving the tobacco control regulations for effective implementation of the NTC Act. The message we have on the board is also intended to resonate with our kids who are intelligent and will ask their parents what the issues are. They will ask questions and we will have to answer them.

“For the wider public, the billboard is like a television set that you cannot switch off. It is always there, they will always see it. Unlike television or magazine adverts, you cannot flip the channel or turn the page. So, for our lawmakers who traverse this route daily, they cannot miss it and the message will stick. Most importantly we want it to galvanise them to action.”

Nigeria’s Tobacco Control Bill was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2015.

But its implementation has continued to throw up a challenge for the government.

Anti-tobacco advocate groups say between the period the bill was signed into law and July this year when the Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, inuagurated the National Tobacco Control Committee, the tobacco industry had fought relentlessly to sabotage implementation.

Mr. Oluwafemi said a lot of “shocking developments” spearheaded by tobacco companies had demanded an expedited action on tobacco control regulations in the country.

“We have recorded among others, Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited (PMINTL) illicit cigarette imports from Senegal; an unwarranted aspersion on the integrity of NATOCC members by the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA) – a group that was in the fore of British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) campaign for a sufficiently weakened tobacco law in Nigeria; and now the unrelenting marketing gimmicks targeted at our kids,” Mr. Oluwafemi said..

“The attempt to get our kids hooked through kiosks and other Point of Sale (POS) near schools is now a big issue not only in Nigeria but across Africa. In Cameroun, Togo, Uganda to list a few countries, these things are happening. Our concern, however, is that Nigeria still remains the biggest market for the tobacco industry on the African continent because of its teeming population of vibrant youths.

“In virtually all the states of the federation, street corners and around schools have been targeted by the tobacco death merchants to market new flavours of cigarettes. Is it not very disturbing to know that there are orange, vanilla and Amarula flavours of cigarettes now being openly displayed and sold to capture the attention of our kids and addict them to smoking?”

Mr. Oluwafemi said the billboard message would go hand in hand with their push for the Health Ministry to expedite action on the Nigeria Tobacco Control regulations for the full implementation of the Act.

“We have said it time and again, delay is dangerous. The time to Act is now.”