From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC), has decried the fact that Nigeria’s excise duty of taxation on tobacco was just 20 percent compared to that of World Health Organization which is at 75 percent and that of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS), at 70 percent, insisting that this low taxation is behind Nigeria accounting for 16,100 deaths arising from tobacco use annually, including 18 billion cigarettes sold to consumers annually.
It has therefore called on the federal government to within the framework of tobacco control, increase the excise duty tax to 75 percent and not the present 20 percent, noting that tobacco companies in order to entice and encourage the use of their product by even 15 year olds, absolved those taxes so that people will continue to use cigarette.
The Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, and Programme Manager (Democratic Governance), Okeke Anya, said this at a media interaction with journalists, to commemorate the World No Tobacco Day, (WNTD) in Abuja on Monday.
Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, said out of the over 1.3billion people who use tobacco globally, over 80percent of this population live in low and middle income countries, where the burden of tobacco related illness and death is very high.
Rafsanjani, decried the fast that despite high tax rate and enlightenment campaigns on the dangers associated with smoking, consumption of tobacco products in Nigeria is on the rise astronomically.
He noted that out of the over 1.3 billion people who use tobacco globally, over 80 percent of this population live in low and middle income countries, where the burden of tobacco related illness and death is very high.
While speaking on the theme of this year’s commemoration, “Commit to Quit”, Rafsanjani noted that although recent surveys found that 80percent of smokers would like to quit smoking, less than five percent are unable to quit on their own due to the highly addictive properties of nicotine.
He said in view of the struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19, smokers ought to understand the implications of a higher risk of developing severe disease and death from this addiction.
Anya, Programme Manager while corroborating Rafsanjani, stressed that there should be a deliberate policy to raise taxes above 75percent to further discourage use of the product.
According to Anya, multinational firms who produce these cigarettes are now leveraging on technology and social media influencers to promote other variants of cigarettes, with deceit that it is less harmful to health.
He said: “The taxes imposed are very insignificant to make any remarkable change in terms of the price of tobacco hence it doesn’t really affect the buyer.
In some countries a pack of cigarette goes for $4, that is N2,000 in Nigeria, if that is imposed many people will want to stop smoking and it will have that desired results.
“Also, the inscription on the cigarette pack that smokers are liable to die young, doesn’t resonate with many people, many that cannot read may not understand there is any kind of warning. That is why we are pushing for issues of graphic health warnings, where they will be pictorial warnings to show the harmful effects of tobacco consumption. Happily, a lot of work has gone into it and from the month of June, we will begin to see graphic pictorials on packs of cigarettes unlike the inscription smokers are liable to die young which people don’t even read.
“We are calling on government, although it will be 50 percent of the package but we are calling for 100percent of the package. We want government within the framework of tobacco control, to tax 75 percent on excise duty and not the present 20 percent. The current tax is so low that atimes tobacco companies will want to absolve those taxes that government imposed so that people will continue to use cigarette.
“The biggest challenge is for it not to get to minors, because the nicotine in it is addictive. A smoker at 15 will be addicted to it for the next 30 years, the tobacco companies will want to retain that customer for that long, so they will want the customer to pay a small price today for continuous addiction. The charges are not enough to deter smokers.
“As we celebrate the WNTD today, CISLAC is calling on government at all levels in Nigeria to invest in promoting cessation, by developing evidence based, cost effective strategies and guidelines, and allocating adequate resources for programme implementation.
“Free counseling must be provided for those that are eager to quit and those that voluntarily quit, mass communication initiatives that encourage quiting must be part of the cessation programs.
“For optimal effect, governments must implement tobacco cessation programs as part of a comprehensive tobacco control approach with other demand reduction tobacco control policies, notably higher tobacco taxes, smoke free spaces.
“There should also be ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, large pictorial health warnings on tobacco packages and anti-tobacco mass media campaigns,”CISLAC noted in its address to Nigerians.
On National Assembly decision to legislate on marijuana, CISLAC said the lawmakers should be guided by health experts, before they legislation. And they should also look at the negative consequences of having such a legislation overall in Nigeria.
Rafsanjani said: “There are so many areas that we are lacking legal framework that the National Assembly should focus on, the National Assembly needs to ensure compliance in various programmes of government. There is need to prioritize what Nigerians are yearning for in terms of ensuring that the country’s governance system works.”