Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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HomeOpinionThe Problem With N10m Tobacco Control Fund — By Robert Egbe

The Problem With N10m Tobacco Control Fund — By Robert Egbe

The national budget for 2024 saw Nigeria double its financial commitment to the Tobacco Control Fund (TCF) from N4.7 million of the previous year to N10 million, heeding long-standing stakeholder calls for increased funding.

The money earmarked for tobacco control aligns with Section 8 of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Act (NTCA), 2015, which stipulates funding for the National Tobacco Control Committee (NTCC) and Tobacco Control Unit (TCU) to carry out their obligations. This fund, drawn from various government revenues, support the work of relevant government institutions in health promotion initiatives, tobacco control programs, and enforcement activities to ensure compliance with set laws and regulations.

By outlining a dedicated fund for tobacco control in the NTCA, the federal government indicated that it appreciated the necessity and capacity of such measures to facilitate the security of public health.

Nonetheless, the journey towards operationalizing the fund has been fraught with challenges and protracted, with the current allocation being very modest. To be clear, the budget increase to N10 million, though a step in the right direction, still falls short of the broad spectrum of tasks and necessary financial resources required for the tobacco control committee to discharge its responsibilities effectively.

For instance, the committee is expected to meet at least four times annually, as stated in the NTCA. Yet, last year, the committee noted that convening even a single meeting alone costs a minimum of N4 million. The figure does not include expenditure for other essential activities such as the coordination of public health campaigns, population-wide cessation and anti-smoking programs, and collaborations with a variety of stakeholders among other initiatives.

The NTCA, in another case, is expected to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant agencies on alternative cropping for tobacco farmers. Such a transition would require ongoing trainings, distribution of substitute seedlings, and potentially, the provision of even soft loans to aid farmers make the switch.  Evidently, N10 million is nowhere adequate for the gamut of interventions and programming essential for robust tobacco control in the country.

This paucity of funds also indirectly facilitates the tobacco industry’s strategy of utilizing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, to market its brand and cultivate harmful relationships with state authorities and strategic institutions in society.

By forming partnerships with government bodies, youth-focused agencies, and tertiary institutions to undertake ‘‘socially responsible’’ initiatives such as organizing farm fairs and agribusiness trainings for farmers and young school graduates, tobacco corporations not only position themselves as benefactors but also subtly promote their brands and earn public endorsements for it.  This scheming not only sidesteps Nigeria’s tobacco control laws but also raises conflict of interest concerns, all of which undermines efforts to regulate tobacco consumption.

As tobacco corporations tirelessly seek to circumvent national regulations and laws, their substantial financial resources significantly aid them.

Only last November, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) fined British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN) and its affiliates an unprecedented $110 million for violating national tobacco control regulations, among other laws. The fine was one of the highest in Nigerian quasi-judicial history, with the FCCPC granting them grace period of a few years to liquidate the penalty. But just days after the announcement of the fine, BATN issued a statement saying it had paid up, reflecting the deep pockets of the organisation.

Up against a public enemy as the tobacco industry with deep pockets, the case for an improved tobacco control funding to fortify public health is made even more urgent. As the leading preventable cause of deaths and diseases, tobacco kills half of its regular users. In fact, by the Federal Government’s own records, no fewer than 26,800 persons die in Nigeria each year from tobacco or tobacco-linked diseases. Yet, the ‘‘casualties are not only those who are dead”, to borrow the words of the late Nigerian poet and playwright, John Pepper Clark.

According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, for every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Thus, thousands of other tobacco consumers in Nigeria are racked with costly, debilitating non-communicable diseases.

Tobacco control is not merely a health issue but also an economic and environmental concern. The costs associated with treating tobacco-related diseases, environmental cleanup, and loss of productivity due to illness and premature deaths run into billions of naira annually. A robust tobacco control strategy, backed by substantial financial resources, can mitigate these burdens, and safeguard the well-being of Nigerians.

On this note, the federal government must recognize the urgency of increasing its allocation to the tobacco control fund in the next budget cycle commensurate with the scale of the problem. This would be a significant step towards empowering relevant agencies to wage powerful campaigns and interventions against tobacco consumption. This investment in public health will yield dividends in the form of reduced healthcare costs, a healthier population and workforce, and a cleaner environment for future generations.

Robert Egbe is the Communication Officer at pan-African not-for-profit, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA)www.cappaafrica.org. He can be reached via [email protected]

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