By Seun Akioye
A shocking new report has revealed a high increase in big tobacco industry interference in health policies especially tobacco control regulations in Nigeria.
The report produced by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA ) with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies through the Centre for Good Governance shows Nigeria’s ratings dropped from 53 points in 2021 to 60 in 2023.
According to the report, the main deterioration is manifest in the Nigerian government’s challenges and failure to adhere to transparency mechanisms, and disclosure of exchanges with the Industry as mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.
These breaches, it noted, are exploited maximally by the tobacco industry to interfere in public health policies and deliberations.
CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: ‘‘Whilst Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act and its Regulations have largely checked the activities of tobacco corporations and entities, the industry has exploited some weaknesses in these laws and gaps in the system to interfere in tobacco control.’’
The report highlighted other areas of interference as follows: “The unnecessary and unhealthy interaction between the tobacco industry and public officials, mostly in the agriculture sector where top government officials have been documented in several instances, participating in the industry’s activities and openly lauding them.
“The tobacco industry’s use and loud celebration of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities in the media and on social platforms as a way of enhancing its image to attract unsuspecting individuals, thereby creating a perception of the industry and its products as responsible and desirable. These CSR initiatives are further promoted by the endorsement of state authorities, who associate and collaborate with the industry to execute socio-economic empowerment programs.
“The weak enforcement of preventive measures, including ambiguities in the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015 and its Regulations of 2019. These challenges inadvertently allow the tobacco industry to operate without accountability in certain instances. For instance, while the NTCA mandates the tobacco industry to submit annual reports on tobacco and tobacco products, it also retains that the Minister may choose to either disclose or withhold this information from the public. This optional transparency makes it difficult for public health advocates to verify whether compliance is being enforced or not.
“The industry’s continued participation in policy development in Nigeria such as its enjoyment of invitations from the government interagency bodies and agencies to meetings where classified resolutions on public health are reached.”
The report says the Nigerian government must implement the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 fully, and also review ambiguities in the law so they do not provide revolving doors that the tobacco industry can exploit to interfere in public health and other policies of the government.
‘‘The Nigerian government must work to ensure that public officials in relevant ministries, departments and agencies sign conflict-of-interest forms periodically to remind them of commitments or obligations that may compromise their office and operations,’’ according to Zikora Ibeh, Policy and Research Officer of CAPPA.
Additionally, the report also tasked state authorities to build intergovernmental synergy at all levels by establishing clear protocols for the full disclosures of minutes and proceedings from meetings and interactions with the tobacco industry.
To begin, it advised relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to consistently update their websites and other information platforms to facilitate the easy dissemination of information and engender transparency.
About the Report
Researchers at CAPPA measured and evaluated incidents of tobacco industry interference in Nigeria against 20 questions based on the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (WHO FCTC’s) Article 5.3 guidelines. These guidelines urge member states to adopt robust measures for safeguarding their tobacco control policies from the influence of the tobacco industry.
The WHO FCTC came into force in 2005 and is the world’s first treaty dedicated to public health on a global scale. It was developed in response to a growing tobacco epidemic and provides a comprehensive legal framework for international cooperation in health matters.
Nigeria ratified the WHO FCTC on 20 October 2005, and it entered into force on 18 January 2006. Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act which was signed into law on 10 June 2015 covers several areas of tobacco control including regulation of smoking, the prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, regulation of tobacco products, content and product packaging, licensing and protection from tobacco industry interference, among others. The Regulations for implementing the Act arrived four years later in 2019 and gave more clarity on stakeholder’s obligations for effective tobacco control.