Tobacco is a Raw Material, Cigarette is a Product, Consumption is a Choice

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The World No Tobacco Day 2019 as championed by the World Health Organization, will be commemorated globally on May 31, with the theme, “tobacco and lung health.” As a liberal organization, we are excited to commemorate the day with proponents and commend the global efforts at promoting health and vitality. However, we are obliged to use this commemoration to revisit the suppressed conversation about the recreational, commercial and economic benefits of Tobacco to individuals and the nation at large. We trust that the proponents of the total ban on Tobacco will be liberal and open-minded to such conversation, beyond personal opinions and values, for the common good of all.

The concerns over the use and abuse of tobacco remain one of the challenges of the tobacco industry and the proponents of the economic values of tobacco and have always given a boost to the arguments put forward by the anti-tobacco activists. In contrasts, however, tobacco products are economic items that contribute hugely to economic development and job creation, with more benefits than its adverse effects. At this critical period of economic downturn in our nation, we believe the conversation around the economic value of Tobacco should remain a front burner in our national discourse and should be driven towards harnessing its benefits, while pursuing lasting solutions on its abuse and unauthorized use, but a ban is in our considered view, a despotic call. Despite the several anti-tobacco sentiments based on sundry emotional arguments and reasoning, it is obvious to all that tobacco is a legal raw material, and banning it will not stop its circulation. The call and move to ban it is illusionary as it will lead to the exact opposite of its intended purpose.

The ultimate trajectory of the most proposed legislation is to eradicate cigarette production. What the bills and anti-tobacco campaigners fail to understand is that laws cannot really kill demand for a product; it will only lead to market distortions in terms of its impact on the supply-side. The distortions that would arise would create a premium for the black market to exist and thrive. While the legal tobacco industry in Nigeria will suffer, an illegal market will rise to fill the demand-supply gap. In fact, the market losses that will arise from the numerous laws and ban would be gained by smugglers and bandits.

If more efforts are invested in critical areas like poverty eradication, which has recorded more deaths globally than any disease; research and development of health solutions; reduction of mortality rate; malaria prevention; and reduction and expansion of job opportunities for the vast unemployed youths; perhaps, the nation would have been at a threshold of different conversations. Nigeria has been reported to record about 300,000 deaths per year as a result of malaria, which also causes about 11% of maternal mortality. Also startling is the about 215,000 yearly deaths from HIV/AIDS, while about 361,000 children die yearly from malnutrition-related causes. All these are a disparaging verdict on the Federal Ministry of Health and its parastatals, which are still burdened by these pertinent issues, despite the huge funds secured to provide solutions and ameliorate their effects.

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World Poverty Clock, a Vienna-based World Stat Lab, recently reported that more than 93million Nigerians were living in extreme poverty with about 32% unemployment rate. We are compelled as a nation to start thinking of alternatives. What are the immediate solutions to ameliorate the hardship, hunger and rising unemployment in the land? We do not think crippling businesses and stifling the economy further are adaptable options. In the light of the foregoing, we should agree that poverty, underemployment and unemployment kill faster than whatever danger the ongoing controlled use or possible abuse of Tobacco might precipitate.

While we are not oblivious of the health and environmental implications of the uncontrolled use of tobacco, we believe the industry is inherently solving its challenges and addressing salient issues coupled with existing legislation. We are therefore excited that the Tobacco industry offers a glimmer of hope as a reliable source of tax revenue for governments globally. The “Cigarette Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024” report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, indicates that the “global cigarette market was worth US$ 888 Billion in 2018. The market is further projected to reach a value of US$ 1,124 Billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of nearly 4% during 2019-2024”, and proportionally creating huge direct and indirect employment spaces along its value chain, more than other sectors. The Tobacco industry offers huge potentials and great gains for developing nations. It is interesting to note that the emerging economic world power, China, has 34% of its centrally collected revenue from the government-controlled tobacco industry.

To douse the widely-spread fears on the health effects of Tobacco use, there is an ongoing diversification into a global potentially reduced-risk products (PRRP) market, with British American Tobacco positing that the “global tobacco and nicotine market is increasingly diversifying beyond traditional combustible tobacco with the growth of vapour and tobacco heating products (THP), as well as the oral tobacco and nicotine market.” The organization added that the “latest global figures (2017) suggest that the THP and vapour market is worth an estimated US$18 billion, while the oral tobacco and nicotine market is worth an estimated US$12.5 billion. Vapour products have developed quickly across the world.” Additionally, the National Tobacco Control Act (NTCA) 2015, which domesticates the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), already placed some restrictions on tobacco products in terms of sales, advertisement and smoking in public spaces, leading to the creation of smoking areas by some public and private facilities. Perhaps, the government will take up the role of ensuring the restriction on public smoking is enforced to protect the rights of non-smokers as well, rather than entertaining the banal call for a total ban on tobacco and losing the benefits along the line.

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In the light of the facts shared in this article, and the biting realities of our economy, we view the continuous calls for ban on tobacco as repulsive, grandstanding, essentially paternalistic and show a lack or low understanding of public policy and governance. The advocates have always tried to impose their values, at the detriment of the recreational and economic values of tobacco, by assuming that what is good for them is good for the whole society.

We, therefore, call for support and collaborations to ensure that liberal laws with clear and balanced regulations on tobacco are enacted, and activities that could undermine the market, such as illicit trade, price differentials and marketing to youths should be well captured and enforced to create an enabling environment for the growers, distributors, retailers, and those on the value chain, which includes, the producers and distributors of cigarette filters, tipping papers, cigarette papers, whiteboards, aluminium laminated papers and glue, along with those on the value chain of each of them. It is a huge and scalable market that cannot be ignored, relegated or undermined.

As a former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, once asserted, “life is simply about choices and preferences. It is improper for some people to arbitrarily impose their non-smoking preferences on others.” We, therefore, conclude that individuals have an inalienable right to whatever choices they make, within the confines of the limits of their rights, without infringing the rights of others, whether in business or in their social inclinations.

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Hellen Adeolu

Head, Research and Statistics

African Liberty Organization for Development (ALOD)

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