Activists warn about deliberate misinterpretation of tobacco law by firms, endangering all of us

by Godwin Akanfe

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has alerted the public about what it described as “deliberate misinterpretation” of the recently-passed Lagos State bill regulating smoking in public places by British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN).

ERA/FoEN, in a statement issued in Lagos and signed by its publicity officer, Philip Jakpor, said series of visibility events organised by BATN, including a sensitization exercise last week for police officers in Lagos on enforcement of the anti-smoking law, were nothing but gimmicks to confuse the public and the police officers.

The event, sponsored by the British American Tobacco Marketing Nigeria Limited, under the theme, ‘Understanding the Lagos State Regulation of Smoking Law’, took place at the Police Officers’ Wives Association (POWA) Multi-purpose hall located in Ikeja. In attendance were senior police officers, including all the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) of the command.

Nkem Agboti, Regulation Counsel, British American Tobacco Marketing Nigeria Limited, and Obafemi Agaba, Partner and Head, Brand Protection and Illicit Trade, among others, facilitated the event. But ERA/FOEN said this was part of the tobacco company’s mission to thwart the implementation of the law.

“We are not deceived by BATN seeming interest in ensuring the implementation of the bill when in actual fact it is attempting to rewrite the law strictly for its commercial interests through deliberate misinterpretation of the meaning of smoke-free public places,” ERA’s Director of Corporate Accountability, Akinbode Oluwafemi said

Oluwafemi maintained that, while the intent of the Lagos State government in fashioning the legislation is targeted at saving lives, the interests of BATN are strictly commercial, even as he stressed that the BATN would stop at nothing to confuse the general public and other regulatory agencies of government that are charged with enforcing the legislation.

“In the months since the bill was signed into law by Governor Babatunde Fashola, we have seen a host of articles syndicated across media organisations poking the law and urging so-called smokers groups to challenge sections that protect non-smokers from the hazardous tobacco smoke. Is it not ironic that the same industry that sponsors those groups is now trying to lecture the police and general public on provisions of the law?”

“We urge the Lagos State government to read the lips of BATN officials engaging in the so-called trainings on implementation of the bill. What we hear is double-speak and outright misrepresentation of the intent and spirit of the law. The Lagos State government must wake up to its responsibility of interpreting in clear terms the letters of the law so as not to leave the citizenry in a state of confusion as intended by the tobacco industry.”

“This is simply unacceptable. We must again draw the attention of the Lagos State government and the implementing agencies of government at all levels to Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which de-normalises the kind of interactions that BATN is involved in with the Nigeria Police and other agencies. Tobacco industry interests run counter to public health interests. The Lagos government must henceforth stamp its feet and put a rein on such exercises.”

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