By Abdullahi Olesin, Ilorin, Donatus Nadi, Lafia , Anayo Onukwugha, Port Harcourt, Nosa Eresoyen, Asaba, Abu Nmodu , Minna, Taiwo Omilani, Lagos.
The federal government’s attempt to implement some aspects of the National Tobacco Control Act may have been dead on arrival as many Nigerians are left in the dark on the law.
On the 31st of May this year, which was the World No Tobacco Day, the minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, launched the implementation of certain aspects of the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA), which include the banning of sale of cigarettes in single sticks, and the banning of sale of cigarettes to minors, banning of sale of cigarettes to or purchased by anybody who is less than 18 years old.
However, checks across the country by LEADERSHIP Friday, revealed that more than four months after the pronouncement by the minister, tobacco control is still a mirage.
In 2015, the country signed into law, the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act with a further step to commence developing regulations that will guide implementation of the Act.
The country has, through the Act, also set up the Tobacco Control Unit (TCU) situated within the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Division of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH).
This, in effect, is aimed at ensuring that the very critical role of tobacco control is duly given the rightful place within the context of NCDs in the overall strategy and interventions of the FMoH.
Many stakeholders had lauded the commendable strides that signaled the commencement of the 2015 Act through pronouncements made by the government during the 2017 World No Tobacco Day:
These include; Ban on sale of cigarettes in single sticks, prohibition of sale of cigarettes to persons below 18 years of age, prohibition of Tobacco Advertising Promotions and Sponsorship of any kind, ban of e-cigarettes (sale or offer of sale), and prohibition of smoking anywhere in certain facilities that include schools, child care and health facilities, amusement parks etc.
However, sources in Delta State, said that cigarette smoking has remained way of life among restive youths, who often saunter into drinking spots to cool off themselves during nightfall.
In Asaba, joints along Nnebisi road, Summit road, Okpanam road, Ugbolu, Awai road are beehives of activities during night fall by cigarette smokers, especially Indian hemp smokers who do not bother about arrest by security agents, or any threats from any quarters.
Investigation revealed that cigarette smoking violation by under 18 years old youths, even in the public, knows no bound, especially in social centres where commercial sex workers frequent.
These youths take delight in smoking, while combining it with “hard drink” often called “Ogogoro”, which “charge” them up to bully their seniors.
Emeka Nnamdi, a dropout student of the Federal College of Education (Technical) Asaba, told our correspondent that the seeming ban on smoking cigarette cannot be implemented in Delta State as it is the only way they (youths) demonstrate their ability as “Core Deltans”.
“Nobody can implement such law here in Delta, we must smoke, even in the public, we must smoke, even in the presence of the police,” he added.
Investigation revealed that most homes in communities such as Illah, Ugbolu, Awai, Igbodo, Agbor-Obi Alisikede, parents and their children smoke together inside their houses, while in most cases, they offer cigarette as gifts to their visitors.
Worse hit in the cigarette smoking mild drama in the state, is the female involvement. For instance, in Umuagu Quarters in Asaba, teenage girls alleged to have hailed from Ebonyi State, smoke cigarette/Indian hemp as prelude to commercial sex hawk.
Amarachi (surname withheld) one of the female cigarette smokers, told our correspondent that they moved into Asaba because of the lucrative environment for commercial sex business.
“We are enjoying the place, we smoke the way we like, no disturbance, and our clients too smoke with us” she added.
Many of the tobacco sellers ply their trade under the watch of the law enforcement agents who give them the leeway and as a result, they smile to the bank at the end of the day.
Almost all cigarette sellers and smokers in Rivers State claim to be ignorant of certain aspects of the Tobacco Control Law, which include the ban on sale of cigarettes to minors, the ban on sale or purchase of cigarette by persons who are less than 18 years old and ban on sale of cigarettes in single sticks.
Checks by LEADERSHIP Friday in Port Harcourt revealed that although there are adults who buy cigarettes in single sticks, majority of smokers who purchase cigarettes in single sticks are persons below the age of 18.
A kiosk owner in old Port Harcourt Township, who gave his name as Abu, said while there may be three persons who buy full packets of cigarette from him in one day, he sells more than 11 packets a day through purchase of single sticks by smokers.
He said, “Here, in one day, I can sell up to 11 packets of cigarette to people who come to buy single sticks. I sell in full packets also, but those who buy in packets are just few. If you stand here for another 30 minutes, you will see those that buy in sticks, they are mostly youths who are under 18 years or there about.”
Abu, however, claimed ignorance of the launch of the implementation of certain aspects of the Anti-Tabacco Law, saying he and others traders who sell cigarettes have been doing the business without any hindrance from security agencies.
He said, “Policemen come here to buy cigarettes, soldiers come sometimes. We have never had any problem with them over the sale of cigarettes in this town area of Port Harcourt.”
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday on the condition of anonymity, a lady who operates a makeshift shop along Ikwerre Road in the Diobu area of Port Harcourt, said she was hearing about the launch of certain aspects of the law for the first time.
She stated that her customers cut across various ages, including the elderly and the youths, who are mostly workers of transport companies that operate along the road.
The lady said, “Oga journalist, I am hearing about the law for the first time. When was it passed by the National Assembly? The only law I have heard of is the law against smoking in public places. But, I have not heard of ban on sale of cigarette in single sticks, sale to minors and persons under 18 years before.”
“As for who are my customers, both the old and the young come here to buy cigarettes and hot drinks. As you sit here, you have been seeing them come and go. You know that there are many transport companies along this road and their workers come here to buy cigarettes mostly in single sticks.”
In Lagos, banning of sale of cigarettes in single sticks is just on the paper. Many minors under 18 years of age in Lagos still buy sticks of cigarette from kiosks or popular vendors called mallam.
LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that people, mainly youths, still patronise them to buy cigarettes and that they sold more of sticks than packets.
In a chat with Abubakah Muniru who sells cigarettes, he said government makes laws but people do not abide with them because of lack of strong implementation.
However, people seen at the area smoking sticks of cigarettes refused speaking with our reporter.
The seller affirmed that such implementation would take time to function effectively, saying that except government stations security agencies in some strategic locations to stop people or minors from purchasing the commodity, it will never stop.
Another seller, who spoke with our reporter anonymously, explained that she sells sticks of cigarette to those who want it, saying she was not aware of federal government prohibiting sale of cigarettes in single sticks.
The woman, who spoke in vernacular said, “We have not heard anything like that but I have to sell my market in order to feed my children. I am not aware of the banning of sale of cigarettes to minors.”
In Nasarawa State, it’s business as usual for traders and smokers.
All the traders and cigarette hawkers interviewed by LEADERSHIP Friday said they were unaware of any such move by the government banning tobacco sale to minors.
Mallam Buba Shehu, a petty trader by Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia, said he was not aware of any laws prohibiting sales in sticks to discourage minors and young users, noting that polytechnic students still buy cigarettes from him in sticks while some even collect on credit.
He said: “No one came to tell me about any new regulations on sales and consumption of cigarettes. I am a regular listener of the radio too and never heard any announcements in that regard.”
“I even give my regular customers on credit whenever they don’t have money”, adding that “in any case, implementing such a regulation will be nearly impossible.”
Another trader, Ya’u Bello, said he was aware that sales and consumption of cigarettes were harmful but says he was left with no option than to use it to earn decent living.
A student, who simply gave his name as Olofu, said smoking was a way of easing tension put on him by studies and recession and the only way out was a stick or two of cigarettes a day.”
Baba Saleh, a petty trader by Assakio Motor Park, along Shendam road in Lafia, said to succeed, government needs to do more in the area of sensitising the public on the health hazard of smoking rather than restricting, sales, purchases, advert sponsorship and host of other measures.
The same goes for Niger State, where youths and minors often patronise make shift shops or those who move about or stay in corners hawking all brands of cigarette.
The sale of the product in single sticks is also high because the turnover of sales in sticks is most assured for the sellers than in packets.
The reason gathered is because the young boys and girls who hide in corners to buy and smoke tobacco cannot afford to buy the product in packets.
Consequently, the sellers, some of who are also underage, sell it to the young boys irrespective of their age and standing in order to meet up with their turn over.
Investigation by LEADERSHIP Friday revealed that school boys are often seen in hidden corners smoking all brands of cigarette which sometimes graduate into hard drugs abuse.
A social commentator, Mallam Aliyu Lawal told LEADERSHIP Friday in Minna that though smoking among young boys and girls is not open in Niger State, the habit is on the high side.
He said cigarette smoking among under age youths is something of a fad, with most of them abusing drugs as well.
He opined that if the law on selling cigarette in sticks is implemented, it will go a long way in curtailing such habits among the young boys and girls.
A popular social centre in Asaba (name withheld) during nightfall, is filled to the brim with youths, most of whom are under 18 years old, wooing commercial sex workers for sex with cigarettes and hard drinks in their hands.
Police image maker in Delta State, Mr Andrew Aniamaka, who spoke to our correspondent on the issue, said it will be difficult for the implementation of certain aspects of the law to ban sale of cigarettes, saying it has formed the habit of keeping persons who are addicted to it busy, including the youths.
“It will be very difficult to implement certain aspects of the law because it seemingly keeps those involved in the act busy and lively” Aniamaka added.
The director, state Ministry of Information, Mr Paul Osahor said: “there will be serious difficulties to implement aspects of the law because the youths are very busy with smoking.”
But in Kwara State, the government has employed the use of persuasion in discouraging retailers from selling cigarette to the minors.
The government is also preaching morality to retailers to enable them understand the danger in selling cigarette to the minors.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Friday on measures put in place by the state government to ensure that retailers do not sell cigarette to minors, the state commissioner for Health, Hon Sulaiman Atolagbe Alege, lamented the absence of a law on prohibition of sales of cigarette to minors.
He said the state government, has, however, embarked in enlightenment campaign on the danger of selling cigarettes to the younger ones.
Alege said the ministry’s officials had taken the campaigns against sales of cigarette to minors and stick dispensing to market places and motor parks across the state.
He added: “I don’t think there is any law by the National Assembly or the Federal Government banning the sale of tobacco to minors. What we have for now is a policy directing every tobacco company to write in their advertisement that smokers are liable to die young.”
“The implication is that taking tobacco can cause cancer of the throats, mouth, pancreatic disease, lungs, stomach and other ailments.”
“What we are doing now is to focus on young ones that are not up to 18 years, we focus on sensitising school children, those in high institutions, people in the motor parks and local government areas on the health implications of smoking. We show them the disadvantages in smoking, environmental effects and other issues and we believe people are yielding to this advocacy. Unconfirmed statics shows that Kwara State is one of the areas where smoking is at its lowest.
“We want to have all the programmes of sensitisation and start educating people but being that there is no law, we can only focus on sensitisation.”
“The only policy we have for now is the one prohibiting smoking within the public, in the buses but what we do now is sensitisation, we let them know that even though there is no law, it is morally wrong ,what you cannot give to your children, don’t sell to other people’s children and they are complying ,you see them chase these children whenever they go to them to buy cigarette.”
Meanwhile, a tobacco control expert with the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Austin Erameh, attributes the incapacity of government to implement tobacco law to funding.
“Funding has largely been fingered as the major cause of the seeming lacklustre posture of a number of actors in the area of tobacco control in-country. Pundits hold as tenable, positions that suggest that capacities when duly developed by both state and non-state actors, will naturally generate adequate funding for carrying out tobacco control work within the context of Non Communicable Diseases.
Erameh maintained that there’s need for more comprehensive and holistic approaches by government and the larger civil society to ensure that the law, even in that weak form that it is, is effectively implemented because what that law does is that it makes Nigeria to effectively have a national tobacco control strategy and an implementation framework for compliance to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which is the largest single public health document ever to be signed into in the world,tToday.
He said, “In cognisance of the critical role that Nigeria plays as a country, due to its sheer size and population, we need to be concerned about how Nigeria is able to rise up to the occasion at ensuring that its citizens are protected from the harmful effects of tobacco consumption will go a long way in shaping a lot of issues on tobacco control in the continent and around the world.”
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