A Civil Society Organization, under the aegis of National Tobacco Control Alliance, has called for the introduction of Graphic Health Warnings on tobacco products in order to reduce tobacco use and its harms which are inimical to health.
The Chairman, NTCA, Akinbode Oluwafemi made this demand during a chat with journalists withith theme ‘Call for Implementation of Graphic Warnings on Tobacco Products’, emphasizing that mouth-cancer is on the increase including other damages done to the health of smokers as a result of tobacco consumption.
Oluwafemi explained further that July 23 makes it exactly over one month of expiration of the Graphic Warnings on Tobacco Products since June 2021.
He said, “Now, tobacco use is a major public health concern and is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the world.
“It is responsible for more than 8 million deaths each year, and if current trends continue, this number is expected to rise significantly in the coming years.
“Here in Nigeria, there are growing concerns about the increasing use of tobacco products, especially the use of shisha among our young population despite the serious health implications.
“The introduction of Graphic Health Warnings (GHWs) on tobacco products is an effective way to reduce tobacco use and its associated harms.
“Studies have shown that GHWs are more effective than text-only warnings in communicating the risks of tobacco use. They are also more likely to be noticed and remembered by users.
“This measure is contained in Article 11 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), and in our local laws. Section 20 of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015 (NTC Act) requires manufacturers, importers, and distributors of tobacco products to ensure that their products carry full coloured graphic health warnings, covering 50 per cent of the principal display area, and that the approved graphic photo must clearly show the health implications of tobacco use and exposure.
“In providing guidelines for effective implementation of this policy, section 20 (3) of the NTC Act stipulates that graphic health warnings must be changed after an initial period no later than 24 months to new graphic warnings and messages prescribed by the Federal Ministry of Health.
“The law anticipated that the shock value of the warnings would begin to wane after two years, this is why the warnings are required to be rotated every two years.
“The first set of warnings, a contrast image of healthy lungs and diseased lungs of a smoker was issued on June 23, 2021, and expired on June 22, 2023, after a period of two years.
“It is now one month since the warnings expired, and as an alliance we alerted our members in the Federal Capital Territory, as well as Ebonyi, Kano and Lagos States to monitor compliance with the second phase of the warnings.
“It is shocking to reveal that compliance is at a flat 0 per cent. This is totally unacceptable. The tobacco industry should not undermine the laws governing its business in Nigeria.
“The current approved warnings by the Federal Ministry of Health shows a graphic image of a tobacco user with mouth cancer, with the text warning ‘smoking causes mouth cancer’.
“The profit centered Tobacco Industry is foot dragging to weaken this policy, because it knows that graphic health warnings reduce the number of people who start smoking, just as it encourages current smokers to quit.
“Graphic health warnings can reduce the amount of tobacco consumed by current smokers.
“In addition, the warnings can reduce the appeal of tobacco products, making them less attractive to young people.
“It is time for implementation of graphic health warnings on tobacco products to safeguard the health of our citizens.”
Citing that it has also been established that the warnings can reduce the economic burden of tobacco use, Oluwafemi urged Nigerian Customs Service not to allow tobacco products into the country that do not conform to the provisions of the law.
“By cutting the number of people who start smoking and encouraging current smokers to quit, thus lowering the costs associated with treating tobacco-related diseases.
“We therefore urge the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, and the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure the speedy implementation of graphic health warnings on all tobacco products.
“This is an important step in reducing the harms of tobacco use and protecting the health of Nigerians. The graphic health warnings policy must not be derailed”, he warned.
The Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, Hilda Ochefu, also implored Government CSOs, and media to assist in ensuring tobacco companies adhere to the law by placing the graphics health warnings of mouth-cancer caused by tobacco smoking on their products.
Ochefu stated, “Right now we are seeing 0 per cent compliance, and it is a challenge to the government, CSOs and media. Now, young people are their specific targets for their products.
“Today is a sober and somber day because we are concerned about the health of our youth and their future.”
Also speaking during the press conference, the Programmes Manager, NTCA, Chibuike Nwokorie, explained that findings on compliance by tobacco companies is being expanded beyond Federal Capital Territory, Ebonyi, Kano and Lagos States, and asked that erring tobacco companies should be sanctioned.
“We are expanding our findings to other States to ascertain the level of compliance with the implementation of the second set of warnings”, Nwokorie added.
He noted, however, that tobacco companies always find ways to violate the lawhe by not complying, calling on government to strictly enforce the law no matter what and don’t allow the tobacco industry dictate to the laws of the country.