A few days ago, people across the world commemorated World Cancer Day. While activities to mark the day in Nigeria were pretty muted (because we seem to have more pressing problems), there were important conversations on how to manage the illness, promises from the government to improve the capacity of its medical centres to deal with cancer related illnesses and discussions on how to ramp up prevention. For once, the government didn’t amplify the fact that it had in fact listened to the request of Nigerians and recommendations of the World Health Organization and set in motion a law to tackle on of cancer’s most insidious culprits: tobacco.
Nigeria has had a long and complicated history with Tobacco. Originally farmed by colonial interests looking to profit off the country and evolving as the country gained independence and its own interests in continuing the trade, Tobacco today is a complicated subject, farmed for its potential revenue but considered a long standing health hazard. Across the world, other countries have taken a hard stance to reduce dependence on Tobacco, banning it in public spaces, allowing persons be prosecuted for exposing others to prolonged tobacco exposure and tightening regulations around the product. Until recently, Nigeria was one of the last places where tobacco and tobacco companies enjoyed less stringent control measures.
But that is about to change. The Federal government’s Gazette of National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 will be put into effect this year. The Gazette is an interpretation of laws set in motion in 2018 to control use and access to Tobacco and is an implementation of the 2015 Tobacco Control Act and will be enforced by a committee appointed jointly by the National Senate and House of Representatives.
Some of the things that the gazette provides specifications for is health warnings in cigareTotte packs. They have always been used, but now companies are legally required to print health warnings on cigarette packing that covers at least 50% of the principal display area with provisions for increasing it to 60% if 50% doesn’t yield a decline in use. A yearly report to the ministry of health on the quantity of tobacco products that are either produced or imported into the country must also be submitted, as well as any affiliations to political parties or pressure groups.
A network of law enforcement and public health officials will enforce at the state level, ensuring that the gazette is adhered to and punishments meted to defaulters.
We might have many issues with the government, but we must also commend them when they take decisions that positively impact every citizen.