Changing the Face of the Tobacco Debate – Adedayo Thomas

Has the raging tobacco control debate been appropriately focused on the right issues? Ahead of the 6th Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC), a number of scientists wrote a letter to Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The letter which was titled “Reducing the toll of death and disease from tobacco – tobacco harm reduction and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)” sought to impress on WHO to consider Tobacco harm reduction as part of the solution to reducing tobacco related diseases.

The letter which was signed by a group of specialists in Nicotine science and public health policy from different countries such as  Australia, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, Greece etc. and includes scientists from the University of Nottingham, Centres for Alcohol and Tobacco Studies, Cancer Council Australia and many more said “It is with concern, therefore, that a critical strategy appears to have been overlooked or even purposefully marginalised in preparations for FCTC COP-6”- the idea that the 1.3 billion people who currently smoke could do much less harm to their health if they consumed nicotine in low risk, non-combustible form”.

Over the last 30 years, the focus of the tobacco control debate has been on regulating the supply and demand of tobacco products. While this focus has taken tremendous momentum, garnering widespread support in many countries; many have also began to question the effectiveness of the campaign.

As the National Assembly considers its own tobacco control bills, it is pertinent that we ask ourselves the following questions:

1.    Have we focused on the right issues in the drive for a strengthened tobacco control regulation and

2.    Will the bills currently before the National Assembly deliver the right outcomes or make matters worse? 

 Our assessment of the tobacco control debate so far:

1.     We are aware of the overwhelming influence of WHO in health related matters and acknowledge the expertise and knowledge that is available within the WHO in this respect

2.     It is our belief, however, that the appeal by these scientists shows that there is room for WHO and the various NGOs working on tobacco control to improve on their current strategy

3.     The debate in Nigeria, has taken a pedestrian approach, focusing more on smear campaigns as opposed to adopting a purposeful discourse that will enable the delivery of an effective law. This is extremely dangerous and a distraction from what should be the real intent of regulation i.e reducing the health impact of tobacco consumption.

4.     We have also observed that there is a concerted effort to adopt policies propagated by foreign entities without due consideration for its local adaptability. This can have far reaching unintended consequences for a product that is susceptible to smuggling by terrorists and criminals

5.     It also our belief, that the issue of ‘exclusivity’ in dialogue must be changed to ‘inclusivity’; all affected parties must be included in the legislative consultations. This is the only way that the appropriate authorities can make informed decisions arising from consultations with differing perspectives. Such consultations must be carried out in a transparent manner. 

Our recommendations


1.     The current focus of the tobacco control debate must change. Advocacy groups involved in the tobacco control debate should focus more on pushing for an effective and enforceable law as opposed to the pedestrian approach of smear campaigns

2.     There is a need to ask the question: what will work for Nigeria? What form of regulation will ensure that we have in place an effective law that which can assist in addressing health concerns rather than transfer the sector into the hands of criminals who use smuggled tobacco for funding terrorism

3.     Tobacco control NGO’s should channel their resources into consumer education: Consumer education is defined as “a process by which people learn the workings of the-marketplace so that they can improve their ability to act as purchasers or consumers of those products and services they deem most likely to enhance their well-being” (see Willett, 1974; Seitz, 1972, p. 199).




As the National Assembly sits to consider the various Tobacco Control Bills, it is imperative, that it seeks to adapt policies which will drive an effective and balanced regulation and not one that can have unintended consequences.


Adedayo Thomas wrote in from Lagos. 

More regulation will strangle the industry writes Adedayo