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Situating Tobacco Control Fund’s N4.7m budget and need for upward review

By Edu Abade

After several years of vigorously canvassing for a Tobacco Control Fund (TCF) by public health groups, the efforts seem to have recorded some measure of breakthrough with the budgetary allocation for tobacco control in the 2023 national budget.

Specifically, N4,732,375.00 (Four Million, Seven Hundred and Thirty-Two Thousand, Three Hundred and Seventy-Five Naira only) was earmarked for the Tobacco Control Fund under the 2023 Budget of the Federal Ministry of Health, which some stakeholders have commended, while others have called for an upward review of the amount, as it will achieve little or nothing in the quest to curtail tobacco-induced diseases and several thousands of deaths caused by smoking and use of tobacco products.

Although subsumed under the ministry’s budget, some stakeholders expressed concern that the amount largely fell short of expectations, while others maintained that it will go a long way in creating awareness and sensitising members of the public on the dangers of smoking and consumption of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and the more deadly shisha, which is currently much in vogue among Nigerian youths, especially in hotels and open bars across the country.

They also maintained that allocating N4.7 million for tobacco control in the 2023 budget, only means that the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for enforcing graphic health warnings (including: Smoking Kills, Quit Now!; Smoking Causes Lung Cancer and Tobacco Smoke Contains Over 70 Substances Known To Cause Cancer with illustrations of normal lungs and smoking lungs on cigarette packs) and sensitisation engagements, will for the most part of it, be deprived of the needed funds.

Reacting to the development, some tobacco control activists expressed fears that the ministry and other government agencies saddled with control and regulation activities will have to depend solely on donor funding or sometimes funds from the tobacco industry through partnerships with them, maintaining that the allocated sum remains a far cry from the goals of effective control and regulation.

They argued that the development is dangerous, as the big players in the tobacco industry had always explored and exploited the dearth of resources and financial support for control and regulation to foster close collaboration with agencies of government and even some institutions with a view to either jettison or weaken regulation and control efforts, which is clearly against the provisions of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

In spite of the high level of awareness already created in the past around the health implications of tobacco products, which culminated in the banning and enforcement of Tobacco Advertisement, Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS), some states like Lagos still partner with the tobacco industry through a Farm Fair slated for October 16 of every year with support from the British American Tobacco (BAT) Nigeria Foundation.

A more worrisome case is that of Philip Morris International (PMI) known to be doing the same in the education sector through the Conrad Challenge which involves unwary Nigerian pupils and students, who have won different prizes in the contests.

More specifically and on a higher level, PMI had on September 13, 2017, announced the donation of $1 billion (or $80 million annually) over a 12-year period beginning in 2018 for its Foundation for Smoke-Free World (FSFW).

Solely funded by the tobacco giant, the foundation consulted widely with tertiary institutions across Nigeria to sell its agenda of a smoke-free world.

Curiously, it was learnt that while most of the institutions rejected the offer to fund the Foundation through their universities or their affiliates, PMI succeeded in convincing the University of Nigeria (UNN) Nsukka, Enugu State, to accept an $80 million yearly funding through the FSFW, which will work closely with the International Centre for Biodiversity (ICB), a category II centre under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) domiciled at UNN.

As a cardinal objective of the smoke-free-world initiative, PMI proposed to support alternative livelihoods for Africa’s smallholder tobacco farmers, for which highly paid researchers have been engaged to gather information and advise the tobacco giant on the best form of support for the farmers. But observers argued that knowing the tobacco industry’s antics such support may never come.

Findings also revealed that the construction of the massive ICB building was completed in 2019 under the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the Faculty of Biological Sciences with the UNN authorities confirming that Article 20 (1a) of the WHO FCTC encourages such collaborations.

But speaking to the issue of the tobacco control fund, Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Philip Jakpor, said although the amount allocated to tobacco control in the 2023 budget is quite insufficient, it represented a good start in financially empowering the ministries of government to implement and enforce life-saving measures.

“However, we will continue to advocate and agitate that government at national and sub-national levels should explore available options to grow the Tobacco Control Fund to such an extent that it will be robust enough to discourage big tobacco from interfering in control issues and accommodate all levels of effective control, advocacy and higher awareness by members of the public,” he added.

Responding to the development on behalf of the National Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), Paul Ashibel, stated that budgeting a mere ₦4.7 million to fund tobacco control in Nigeria for a full year is simply abysmal and a far cry from the projected amount given the present realities.

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“The paltry amount shows that government is yet to fully appreciate the consequences of tobacco use in a country where over 28,000 people die annually from the consumption of deadly tobacco products. Also, the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015 and its 2019 Regulations, which are primarily drawn from the recommendations of the WHO FCTC, require a national application to be significantly effective.

“In more precise and practical terms, the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC), which is charged with the coordination of tobacco control efforts in the country is required to meet quarterly, yet the amount budgeted for the entire year can barely fund one of the meetings,” he stated.

He further lamented that the same amount is expected to fund enforcement activities with a view to ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act and Regulations on graphic health warnings and smoke-free places, among others.

“When you spread it over all the various important and necessary activities, it becomes clear that the amount is very poor. Nevertheless, the allocation of funds for tobacco control in the 2023 Appropriation Act is commendable, because it provides a basis for improved state funding in the future,” he added.

On his part, Michael Olaniyan, a lawyer and staff member of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), said: “The budgetary allocation is a welcome development and although it is not enough, it will at least provide the Tobacco Control Unit (TCU) with something to work with.

“As a tobacco control advocate, I definitely would love to see more money allocated to this very important aspect of Nigeria’s public health. Every kobo committed to tobacco control is a good investment in the prevention of cancers, as well as other numerous deadly and crippling diseases.”

The truth is that if the tobacco control fund intends to ensure good investment in the prevention of cancers and other numerous deadly and crippling diseases, the N4.7 million appropriated for tobacco control fund is far too inadequate, more so in Nigeria- a peculiar clime by all indices!

Be that as it may, it is, therefore, important and urgent for the Federal Government, represented by the Ministry of Health to review the level of funding for tobacco control upward to at least N250 million through licensing fees from tobacco companies and once the revenues are generated, they should be earmarked for and deployed for adequate control of tobacco and for public health causes.

To achieve maximum results, this should, of course, be consciously followed up by foolproof monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment mechanisms to guarantee a responsible, accountable, efficient and sustainable regime of tobacco control and regulation in the country.

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