Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has warned that Nigeria could lose $145 billion by 2025 over its failure to key into the global legal marijuana market.
He made this known via his verified Twitter handle yesterday while reacting to some media reports on his trip to Thailand.
The governor and the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah, are in the Asian country for a programme on the development of medicinal cannabis.
“Our focus now is medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the NDLEA. I strongly implore the Federal Government to take this seriously as it is a thriving industry that will create thousands of jobs for our youth and spurs economic diversification,” he tweeted.
This came as the House of Representatives yesterday approved the draft National Tobacco Control (NTC) Regulations in a move aimed at enhancing the health of the citizenry.
The regulation empowers the Federal Ministry of Health to grant a licence for each variant of a tobacco product to curtail abuse. This is a departure from the old order where such powers were vested in government agencies.
The NTC Act was signed into law in 2015. It is however yet to be fully implemented because some of its provisions require regulations, which were only approved on May 7, 2019 by the House of Representatives.
The approved draft regulations state that all forms of tobacco products shall carry health warning; stronger and better defined prohibited packaging; principal display areas; and 50 per cent graphic health warning, to be automatically increased to 80 per cent after four years.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who decried the harmful effects of the products, regretted that about 17,000 Nigerians die yearly from tobacco-induced illnesses.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), smoking is responsible for over two thirds of lung cancer deaths globally, and second-hand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer for non-smokers. The theme of the 2019 World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is ‘Tobacco And Lung Health’.
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) commended the House for approving the draft regulations developed by the Federal Ministry of Health and other critical stakeholders. It also urged the Senate to take a cue by approving the regulations before its tenure elapses.
The Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, told reporters in Abuja that there was the need for the retention of strong provisions of the regulations aimed at stemming indiscriminate consumption and sale of tobacco products in the country.
According to him, more people die because the tobacco industry exploits the partial implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 by releasing lethal and innovative products into the Nigerian market to lure kids into smoking for life.
But stakeholders in the industry noted that though manufacturers have been complying with extant regulations, it is not possible for government to maintain a hard posture. Tobacco or cigarette consumption cannot be outlawed but only controlled, they argued.
The provision that 80 per cent of the pack should not be displayed is what we kicked against, as there would be no basis for brand differentiation, one operator said.
The stakeholder, who pleaded anonymity and spoke on behalf of the industry, said a threshold of 50 per cent was advocated as against 80 per cent to help consumers differentiate brands.
Citing the effect on the economy, the operator noted that the rigid posture of non-governmental organisations threatens investment in the sector and would affect revenue generated by government in terms of tax and duty, as well as increase the number of unemployed Nigerians if manufacturers exit the country.
The Federal Government had increased excise duty on tobacco and alcoholic beverages to bolster its revenue. It claimed the duty would reduce health hazards associated with the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
The new duty, which took effect June 4, 2018, will be implemented over a three-year period to reduce the impact on manufacturers and the fallout on inflation.
Hilda Ochefu, sub-regional coordinator (West Africa) of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) said Nigeria is still lagging behind on tobacco control compared with other African countries that signed and ratified the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC). She listed Ghana and Senegal among countries that have strong provisions in their tobacco control law, which Nigeria should emulate.
Oluseun Esan, programme coordinator of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), said Nigerians were particularly in
terested and were monitoring the outcome of the Senate review of the draft regulations.
According to him, the citizens would want strong provisions retained and weak ones improved upon, to ensure that the country takes the lead in tobacco control on the continent.