The pro-tobacco lobby has come out strong against a proposed anti-tobacco bill to be discussed in the Nigerian parliament. The lobbyists include British American Tobacco Nigeria and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.
The bill seeks to ban smoking in public places and forbids persons under the age of 18 to sell and buy tobacco products.
The proposed law, which would amend the 1990 Tobacco Control Laws of Nigeria, also forbids communication between the manufacturers and consumers.
The bill, if passed into law, "will force legal tobacco companies out of business because they will be forced to shut down their operations", a representative of British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), Tony Okwoju, told a public hearing, organised by the senate committee on health.
He said that certain provisions in the bill were "either extreme and would have unintended consequences or will only make it difficult or impossible for the legal industry to operate without necessarily achieving the desired objective of reducing the impact of tobacco on public health".
"The effect of passing a law that is not adequately considered is that it will undermine its own intentions by placing tobacco outside of the control of the regulator, thereby leaving those who continue to smoke at the mercy of smugglers," said Okwoju.
BATN, a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco group, locally produces international brands such as Benson and Hedges, Rothmans, St. Moritz, Dunhill, London Kingsize and Consulate.
A representative of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Kadri, said that manufacturers were opposed to the bill because it allegedly ignored the positive contribution of tobacco firms to the society.
"MAN is of the strong view that the senate should handle this bill with the necessary caution it deserves in order not to send a wrong signal to potential Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in other sectors of the economy," Kadri said.
A member of the senate committee, Kamorudeen Adedibu, said that the National Tobacco Control Bill (2009) will run down the tobacco companies and result in unemployment in the country.
But some local civil society groups expressed support for the bill and called for is speedy passage because of the health hazards tobacco-smoking poses.
A suit filed by the Nigerian government against tobacco companies operating in the country to seek damages for health hazards is pending in court.