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The Consumer Protection Council has begun an awareness campaign on the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) across major cities in Nigeria where cigarettes and shisha are openly sold.

On Thursday, the agency’s officials – accompanied by police officers – visited the popular old Ojota motor park in Lagos and nearby garages, as well as the Classique and Vibe lounges in Oregun, were Shisha is sold to patrons, to enforce the law.

“Given that the council is mandated by law to enforce all enactments aimed at protecting consumers, like the NTCA, and mindful that tobacco products pose grave health risks to consumers, we resolved to enforce all the enforceable provisions of the Act,” Babatunde Irukera, the CPC director general, told newsmen on Friday.

However, we also considered it necessary to sensitise tobacco dealers and the public to the provisions of the law before we commence full enforcement.

Earlier, the agency had conducted the same exercise in Port Harcourt accompanied by officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), visiting the Waterline motor park where they met traders and retailers at Bob Izua motor park, the Rivers State Transport Company, and Elechi neighbourhood. The team also visited the streets leading to the Sani Abacha Way in GRA Phase 2.

Lounges visited for the enforcement of shisha ban include Ace Lounge, Kelly Sport Bar, Casablanca Bar, and Cubana Lounge among others.

“In as much as ignorance of the law is not an excuse, we always sensitise and encourage businesses to voluntarily obey extant legislation, rules and regulations. Often, it is when that fails that we resort to full enforcement of the law,” Irukera, a lawyer, said.

Last month, the CPC had embarked on a similar exercise in the federal capital territory.

The National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015 regulates and controls the production, manufacture, sale, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products in the country.

In 2017, the Nigerian government introduced nine regulations in the NTCA that would be implemented.

The regulations included the prohibition of the sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below 18 years; ban of sale of cigarettes in single sticks, cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20 sticks only; smokeless tobacco shall be sold in a minimum of a pack of 30 grammes; ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet, or other online devices.

The rest were the prohibition of interference of the tobacco industry in public health and related issues; prohibition of smoking in public places; prosecution of the manager of a public place who permits smoking; prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and tobacco products’ compliance with the specified standard for content as set out by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria.

The CPC awareness campaign also involved impending enforcement of the ban on the smoking of shisha, which, incidentally, is not captured in the NTCA.

But Irukera said the Nigeria Industrial Standard for Tobacco and Tobacco Products prohibits the use of flavouring substances, with the potential to initiate or appeal to children, in the manufacture of tobacco products like cigarettes, shisha and a host of others.

“Preliminary examination has shown that shisha is mostly flavoured, hence violates the provisions of the said standard,” he said.

“That explains our impending enforcement activity with respect to shisha. Again, like the case of other tobacco products, we are using the ongoing exercise to draw attention to the fact that flavoured shisha violates extant regulations, and we will soon commence full enforcement against same.”

Oluseun Esan, the programme coordinator for the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, speaking at a press conference in Lagos on Friday commended the action of the CPC.

“We thank the agencies especially the CPC who took the lead for standing with the Nigerian people,” Esan said.

“We ask that they should not rest on their oars and that all enforcement agencies take it upon themselves to regularly enforce the provisions in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. We will continue to look out for it.”

Nigeria’s tobacco control bill was passed into law in 2015 but enforcement has remained a challenge because several sections of the bill required the approval of the regulations by the National Assembly.

Esan said the National Assembly’s Committee on Delegated Legislation has begun calling on stakeholders to attend an Interactive Session on the regulation.

“We call on the Committee on Delegated Legislation in the National Assembly to consider the health, safety, and future of the Nigerian people; to stand on the part of the masses against the tobacco industry who makes profits at the expense of the health and live of the Nigerian people,” he said.

“We call on them to approve the Regulations as it is, without watering down the provisions. Nigeria is one of the least regulated countries in Africa when it has to do with tobacco. The TI (tobacco industry) makes a lot of profit at the expense of the lives of the citizens and regrettably, they pay insignificant taxes which is also one of the lowest in Africa.”

The CPC said its awareness campaign is a continuous exercise and that, afterwards, a “full enforcement” of the NTCA across the country would begin.

“Nobody has been arrested in the course of the ongoing exercise,” said Irukera.

“But when we commence full enforcement in the near future, violators will be arrested, where necessary, and non-conforming products will be removed from the market, in line with the provisions of the Council’s enabling law.”

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