The National Tobacco Control Act, 2015 was set up to regulate all aspects of tobacco control including smoke-free places, tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, tobacco packaging and labeling, prevention of tobacco industry interference, tobacco product disclosures, the creation of a National Tobacco Control Committee, tobacco product sales, including prohibiting the sale of single sticks, among other areas.
The Act mandates combined picture and text health warnings to be displayed on 50 percent of all principal display areas of ‘all tobacco product packaging’. Beginning in 2024, the size of the combined picture and text warnings will increase to 60 percent.
The law also prohibits misleading packaging and labeling, including terms such as “light” and “low tar” and other signs, such as colors, that portray the consumption of tobacco products to be glamorous.
The provisions on tobacco product packaging and labeling entered into force in June 2021, 18 months after the date of publication of the regulations in the Gazette.
Despite that the 50 percent pictorial health warning sign is expected to be applicable to ALL tobacco products, findings by BONews Service in major locations across Nigeria indicated that there are low compliances on tobacco products like snuff and shisha.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Pictorial health warnings that include graphic, fear-arousing information have proven to be particularly effective as they detract from the overall attractiveness of tobacco packaging, to deter new users who are often most vulnerable to manipulation through branding and imagery.
Article 11 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires that tobacco product packaging provide health warnings describing the harmful effects of tobacco use, which must cover a minimum of 50% of the pack.
They also recommend that: written warnings should be large, clear and legible; warnings should feature mandated descriptions of harmful health effects and specific illnesses caused by tobacco use; warnings should appear in all principal languages of the country; warnings should appear on individual packs, on all outside packaging and retail displays; warnings should be rotated; warnings should appear on all tobacco products, including smokeless; and warnings should include a picture.
Speaking about the importance of the pictorial warning, Philip Jakpor, the Director of Programmes at the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) said cigarette packs have lured young people into smoking especially when the branding is glamorous with smoking being portrayed in a positive light.
Jakpor, who noted that the tobacco industry is deliberately targeting the young generations to take up smoking, mentioned that the pictorial health warnings can help derail people from consuming tobacco.
“A study we conducted in 2016 showed that the tobacco industry deliberately situates points of sales near primary and secondary schools and as kids go to school and see biscuits and candies, they see the tobacco products and they are tempted to try it because they are in glamorous packs. They are not informed about the dangers.
“However, what this Act has mandated is that the tobacco packs highlight the dangers of tobacco and illustrate them in images. Some products now have health warnings like smoking causes lung cancer, affects your fertility, or that it will kill you, cause cancer.
“The warnings also go with gloomy pictures to inform smokers about the complications of what they are consuming and those who cannot read or write can also see the images,” Jakpor added.
Corroborating him, Chibuike Nwokorie, Project Officer of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), in an interview with BONews Service explained that industry players did not acknowledge the effects of tobacco products on the previous packaging, and would rather shift be silent about the side effects of these products on humans.
Nwokorie explained that “before now, the tobacco producers would say ‘The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young’, but now, they are mandated to inform consumers directly about the dangers of their products and also depict these harmful effects in pictures.”
Nwokorie noted that the pictorial health warning signs can help to pass information to consumers who are illiterate and thereby enabling them to rethink and quit or reduce their consumption of tobacco products.
Random checks by BONews Service in different locations across Nigeria revealed a high level of compliance among different brands of cigarettes but little or no compliance for snuff and shisha.
A check at retail shops in Agege in Lagos, a hotspot for illicit drugs and abuse, showed the availability of different brands of cigarettes with appropriate pictorial health warning signs covering about 50 percent of the packaging. The same was applicable in the Ogba and Iyana Oworo in Lagos.
Similar findings were applicable in Lugbe, FCT-Abuja, Ilorin in Kwara State, and Emene in Enugu State.
However, tobacco products like snuff and shisha in the locations monitored did not comply with the tobacco graphic health warning signs on labellings and packaging.
Snuffs are sold in smaller quantities by retailers selling alcoholic drinks and herbs popularly referred to as ‘paraga’. As such, the snuffs are measured in preferred quantity to consumers without the privilege of seeing the graphic health warning signs.
On the other hand, Shisha is smoked from colourful hookah pots, and neither do the pots have graphic health warning signs.
Generally, snuffs are portrayed to be herbal/medicinal while shisha is portrayed to be harmless because it is available in different flavours. Research has however shown that these products are as worse as other tobacco products.
As such, non-compliance to the graphic health warning signs as mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 is a violation of the provisions of the Act by tobacco producers.
Speaking about the findings of a recently concluded joint enforcement exercise embarked upon by the NTCA and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) in Kano and Calabar, Chibuike Nwokorie, Project Officer of NTCA corroborated that findings by BONews Service were similar to what the team found in Kano and Calabar, during a recently concluded enforcement drive.
Nwokorie who noted that the NTCA is partnering with the FCCPC to monitor compliance mentioned that compliance with the graphic health warning signs by snuffs and shisha is below 1%.
He buttressed that “compliance level by Snuffs, Shisha, and other novel tobacco products is below 1%. This is similar almost everywhere because most of our partners in other states have done their surveillance and they found out that cigarettes are largely complying with the regulation, while other tobacco products are exempted.”
Nwokorie thinks that tobacco industry players disregard the provision of the Act because they think the attention is only on cigarettes while they change the perception of consumers to think that the other products are not tobacco.
“When you engage a consumer on the street, they only think of cigarettes as the only tobacco product that is dangerous to their health, while they have nicknamed other tobacco products in the guise that it is medicinal and not dangerous to their health,” he added.
Section 20 of the NTC Act mandates the Nigeria Police Officers, Public Health Officers, National Civil Defence Corps Officers, Environmental Health Officers of the Federal Capital Territory and of each State of the Federation, Standard Organization of Nigeria Officers, National Agency for Food and Drug, Administration and Control Officers; and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Officers; to authorise the enforcement of the Act.
However, the FCCPC has been partnering with the NTCA stakeholders to enforce compliance by the industry players, through monitoring exercises conducted in Kano and Calabar, and in some other states in previous times.
Nwokorie who monitored the exercise in Kano and Calabar shared with BONews Service that it is imperative that all stakeholders involved in the enforcement of the Act begin to take cogent actions, especially in the hinterlands where different kinds of tobacco products are being sold.
“I must commend the FCCPC for their efforts so far, but they need to do more to ensure that the NTCA Act is fully implemented,” he added.
Nwokorie also charged all the agencies listed by the Act to enforce all aspects of the Act and “look at other tobacco products that are often overlooked. Enforcement should be intensified in hinterlands and construction sites because that is where we have more use of tobacco products.”
Ahead of July 2023 when the new packaging would be released, Nwokorie appealed to the Standard Organization of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Health, to ensure that it is effective and implemented.
On his part, Philip Jakpor recommended “intergovernmental agencies collaboration to ensure swift compliance by the industry players.
Jakpor stressed the need for adequate enforcement to include other less-known tobacco products such as snuffs, shisha, and other novel tobacco products.
“The FCCPC and the Federal Ministry of Health (the driver of this policy) should work together with other agencies of government to ensure adequate compliance to the Act,” he added.