Sam Oluwalana, Ibadan
Two research groups, havE accused the British American Tobacco Company, BATCO and other tobacco companies in Nigeria of luring school children to the habit of smoking by selling cigarettes near school premises.
Nigerian Tobacco Control Research Group, (NTCRG) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoE) advocated for concrete actions and continued watchfulness of major stakeholders including parents, education authorities, teachers, women groups, professional groups and media on the grave harm of getting children hooked on consumption of tobacco products.
The groups who collaborated on a research on the effects of tobacco among school children, made the call while making a public presentation of a report they conducted in five of the six geopolitical zones in the country, at the St John Church Hall, Yemetu, Ibadan over the weekend.
The report, titled: “Big Tobacco Tiny Targets, tobacco companies targeting of school children in Nigeria” ( a copy of which is in possession of The Post) sampled 221 schools in cities like Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu, Lafia and Lagos representing the various geopolitical zones of the country.
Making the public presentation of the findings, the lead researcher, Dr. Adebiyi Akindele disclosed that there are evidences of a pattern of the sale of tobacco products, including cigarettes, within 100 metres of school environments across selected towns in the country, linking the practice to leading tobacco producers in the country.
The findings also reveal a number of themes that clearly identifies the deliberate use of marketing strategies to stimulate the interest of children and youths in tobacco products. It added the warning signage on the prohibition of sales to minors, are displayed in a minimal numbers of stores across the country and that even these are mutilated to obscure the messages, thereby rendering them inactive to serve as deterrent..
According to the report which condemns the use of systematic approach of targeting youths through visual appeal methods and such other placement of tobacco products on the counter and other positions easily accessible to youths, the researchers noted that the practice is a flagrant contravention of Article 16 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which specifies the prohibition of sale of tobacco products in any manner by which they are directly accessible to minors.
In its express observation, the report disclosed that the location of point of sales for tobacco within 100 metres of schools is a deliberate ploy of tobacco companies like BAT, PMI and ITC to stimulate children and youths into early interest in tobacco products.
“The delay in the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 with provisions banning the placement of tobacco products at educational establishments and access of youths to tobacco products is particularly worrisome and if this situation is not quickly checked, we may likely experience an increase in the number of tobacco users as predicted by the WHO.
“The enforcement of the comprehensive prohibition of tobacco advertising and sponsorship (TAPS) including point of sales and product display should be enhanced by the National Assembly urgently approving the regulations guiding the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015.
“The Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Education should work together to ban the location of point of sales of tobacco products within 100m of all schools. This should be enforced at state and local government levels by State Ministries of Education and local Education authorities..
The report recommend stiff sanctions against infractions by defaulting tobacco manufacturers; “We further advocate for concrete actions and continued watchfulness of major stakeholders like parents, education authorities, teachers, women groups, professional groups and media on the grave harm getting children hooked on tobacco would cause.”
The presentation was attended by a group of selected students from twenty Secondary Schools across the state.
The presentation also had in attendance, Medical practitioners, Community leaders, parents, stakeholders and groups working against the use of tobacco in local communities.
Reacting to the story, the Giant Tobacco products manufacturers, British American Tobacco Company, BATCO absolved itself of any unethical practice in its operations
Speaking on behalf of the company, the Area Head, Corporate Affairs of British America Tobacco Company, Abimbola Okoya, in an electronics mail, said the company is a responsible corporate entity that is committed to a self-imposed principles that protect youths and prevent them from having access to their products.
The text reads; “We are proud to state that we are a reputable and responsible law abiding corporate organization, who market and sell our tobacco products in a responsible manner and strictly adhere to our own self-imposed International Marketing Principles that governs, regulates and monitors our marketing approach, within our controlled marketing universe, in countries in which we operate.
”Our principles aim to prevent youth access and smoking at point of sale and discourages the sale of tobacco products near schools. It also strongly discourages the use of child labour at tobacco retail points to prevent minors from selling and promoting the use of tobacco products and we strictly monitor our Trade partners with a view to ensuring we do not partner with anyone who engages under aged persons to sell our products.
”Guided by our principled position, we are and remain an international organization of repute who continues to contribute positively to the Nigerian economy in a responsible manner. We are committed to ensuring adherence to the Tobacco Control Act and regulations governing the sale and promotion of tobacco products in Nigeria. We will continue to advocate and drive for compliance to our International Marketing Principles now and in the future.“ the statement said.
However, in a counter- response to Batco’s reaction,Mr. Philip Jakpor, the Head of Media and Campaigns, for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria countered that the tobacco giant’s response was devoid of honesty and that its practices have actually encouraged the exposure of Nigerian youths to their products.
”We are not surprised at BATN response to the well-documented case studies in the ”Tiny Targets Report”.
”If only they could deploy the resources expended on this PR effort into removing their points of sale and other inducements targeting the lungs of our kids, there wouldn’t have been need for all these well-oiled responses that we know too well.
”We have facts in pictures and real places, they have polished and sweet lies, crafted in the inner recesses of their board rooms. Nigerians and indeed the world can judge”. he said.