One product, multiple laws
June 2, 2014
By Adedayo Thomas, Orile-Oshodi, Lagos
SIR: The news came out recently that the Federal Government is planning to introduce a new bill on tobacco regulation in the country. The bills planned to introduce punishment of up to N50, 000 for violators, jail others for up to six months, further restrict the sale and use of tobacco and ban all form of advertisement of the product among others.
The new plan shows the poor level of policy coordination that exists at the topmost level of governance in the country. There are up to three bills at various stage of reading at the National Assembly and all the bills are saying the basically the same thing with some variance in each. This will be the fourth bill at the federal level when it is presented for passage and there are also similar laws in other states of federation on the same subject.
Introducing a new bill when there are up to three already means there is lack of policy coordination as to what policy is needed and what we already have. If one transfers what is ongoing in tobacco laws to other governance areas, it shows why there is lack of development in the economy.
If this duplication and concentration of efforts could be used in critical areas like infant mortality, malaria prevention and AIDS and HIV prevention, the level of spread of such disease will have reduced or stopped completely. A recent UNICEF report indicates that under-five mortality in Nigeria increased from 138 per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 158 per 1,000 live births in 2011. This implies that 158 out of every 1,000 children born in Nigeria will die before they celebrate their fifth birthday. As you are reading this, there are about 842 million hungry people in the world, the vast majority live in developing countries. AIDS/HIV kills over 300,000 Nigerians annually and not less than 1.5 million children are orphaned yearly due to the virus. These are problems that fall under the health ministry purview, yet they are busy writing new laws on an industry that is already curtailed. Half of the efforts being used in further clamping down on the tobacco industry will improve the health status of some HIV infected patient and will save the lives of some new born. More than 16 youth died in the recent NIS recruitment exercise.
The ministry and other stakeholders should rather concentrate on more education and information-sharing for a strong knowledge base on any health issue and leave individual alone on the right to choose. If I may ask, where in the public did the government redesign as “smoking areas”? Are the minority not part of the public?
Lessons should be learned from developed countries particularly where smoking is prevalent. The regulations are clear and balanced, respecting the choice of smokers and non-smokers. Smokers need no victimization once the full knowledge of his act is known to him or her. If those behind this proposed bill properly assess the sector, they will know that multiple legislations are not the solution.