Mr. Philip Jakpor is the Head, Media and Campaigns, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN). He speaks with ‘Dotun Akintomide (Online Editor, The New Diplomat), on why ERA/FoEN is targeting the entertainment industry as the next frontier of its Tobacco Control Campaign.
Jakpor also bemoaned the delay in gazetting approved Tobacco Regulations by the federal government eight months after its approval by the National Assembly (in May, 2019). The delay has been unsettling Tobacco Control advocates in Nigeria as it leaves the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act passed in 2015 in limbo. Without gazetting the Regulations, the full implementation of the NTC Act cannot commence. He revealed how the alleged infiltration of various Nigeria’s public and private sectors by Big Tobacco has negatively rubbed off on Tobacco Regulation in Africa’s most populous nation, where Tobacco still kills 17,500 people annually (Tobacco Atlas, 2015).
Recently, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) organized a Tobacco Control Rap Challenge in Lagos. What were the motives behind organizing such an event around Tobacco Control?
First thing first, that competition actually started on September 2, and what it practically entails is getting the youths who ironically are the same targets of the tobacco industry to show us some innovativeness and we felt we can drive this process through tobacco message. When we conceived the idea we felt if the tobacco industry targets the youths as replacement smokers why not also target the youths and use what we call reversed ideology. We linked it up with idea of this tobacco control rap challenge. We created a beat and got the youths to rap to that beat. But it’s not just mere rapping, they have to rap about the dangers of tobacco, they’re going to rap about the provisions of the National tobacco regulatory Act which bans the sales of cigarettes in sticks and bans the sales of cigarettes to minors. So you could see that the five finalists had a message to pass. They were not just talking about the dangers of taking tobacco, but they were also talking about the law which bans sales of cigarettes in sticks and sales of cigarettes to minors, anyone below 18. It’s actually targeted at educating not only those they’re singing for but also themselves, because through this competition they have also become more aware of the dangers of tobacco and they’ve seen that they are now in a community of people who share the same sentiment and believe that tobacco addiction is a gambit of the tobacco industry to hook the next generation of smokers because the current generation of smokers are dying off. The tobacco industry is very innovative and what they do is that they come up with shows, movies, concerts. At these concerts, sometimes there are free take aways, they get the youths to try smoking. And we saw that many years, the secret smoking parties which were organized by British American Tobacco, which ERA/FoEN unearthed at a point. So the aim like I mentioned is just to use the youths to pass the tobacco Control message.
What do you think the established artistes in the entertainment industry can bring to the table? Can advocates have any luck in getting them to also join in preaching Tobacco Control message through their work?
The good is that the youths see those people as role models. Conscripting such people into this campaign of course will go a long to win those who are currently smoking out of the habit and also to discourage others from going into smoking. We have made those kinds of efforts and those kinds of efforts are still on. But while that is on, we’ve decided also to cultivate another generation of youths who could also end up as role models because what we saw at the grand finale of the competition was creativity comparable to any of those big artistes out there. Because these guys were very creative and the beats were on point and even the older people were dancing to what they were singing about and understood the message. The message was very clear. Yes, we’re looking at those big artistes, but we’re also not looking away from younger people who also have a lot of talent which were put on display at the event.
The yuletide just ended and the valentine season is here. It’s believed that once there are festivities around, the tobacco industry will want to cash in from the fun season as well. So what’s out there and what has the tobacco industry been up to lately?
Most times, what they even plan, one don’t get to know about them until they’re being implemented, because these things are concealed in the inner chamber of their boardrooms. In the recent past, we saw secret smoking parties where a lot of youths were inducted into smoking. Those secret parties held in Lagos and other parts of the country. The industry does not sleep. We’ve also learned that they are sponsoring some concerts now and in those concerts you experience the same thing. But even if you don’t experience the same thing you also see them giving out freebies in their colours; umbrellas and branded T-shirts in their colours. These are indirect ways of wooing the generation of smokers that they target. We anticipate that with the law we’ve in place: the National Tobacco Control Act and the Regulations, some of which have been enforced by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) which went round recently to create awareness on the law in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt that people will be on the watch out for what the industry is going to come up with. Sometimes, in October the same industry sponsored a food fair that held in Lagos. Now, the tobacco industry is trying to position itself as a stakeholder in our agriculture especially in the implementation of the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) 2 (Hunger). This is their gambit and they want to infiltrate every sector so that regulating what they do will become very hard. At the World Food Day 2019, the company’s officials were seen with government people ingratiating themselves. So, it’s to make it difficult for public officials to deal with them when they err and that’s why we continue to say we want the full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act and we want the federal government to gazette the regulations so that the full implementation of the Act and its regulations commence.
You have spoken on a number of reasons why the government should gazette the Tobacco Regulations to ensure the full implementation of the NTC Act commences, but what’s stopping the government from going ahead with the gazetting of the regulations, considering that some of these infractions are done in the open and everyone, including government officials can see them?
That’s the question we must continue to ask the government because that’s the question we’ve continued to ask. The Regulations were passed by the eight National Assembly and we had anticipated that the same passion they put into passing it in May 2019 will be put into gazetteing it. With the gazette, it immediately become an official government document. It’s also a public document, you can access and everybody knows the provisions of the law; the dos and the donts and then it can be available for distribution, but unfortunately over seven months since that process was put in place nothing has happened. We ask that the federal government does that gazette and do that as a new year gift to Nigerians because it will save a lot of lives, then the agencies of government like the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), the NSCDC can go all out now and clampdown on infractions so we will no longer be seeing Shisha being promoted; we will no longer see cigarettes sold in sticks so that almost everybody can buy it. We will no longer see minors buying cigarettes; we will no longer see smoking in public places. These are some of the key provisions which the gazette of the Regulations will unleash and then we can start holding the tobacco corporations accountable. But for now that delay is giving the tobacco industry opportunities to entrench their hold on the country and veer into areas that were hitherto away from their reach. They are very creative and like I mentioned earlier that’s the reason why we came up with the Tobacco Control Rap Challenge where we had youths who understand the issues to sing to the issues and ensure that that message also goes round to their fellow youths.
Should the government fail to do the needful on time by gazzeting the Regulations to kick-start the full implementation of the NTC Act, what would be the next planned action and how would the Tobacco Control advocates in the country respond?
What we should do is what we’re doing which is drawing the attention of government and the public to the fact that a regulation exists. What’s required now is that gazette and we’re also urging the media to beam their search light on the issue because the media has been very instrumental to publicizing the dangers of tobacco; exposing the activities of the tobacco industry. So, it’s only when we all play our roles and we all speak with one voice in demanding that the gazetting takes place and it will happen. God forbids, maybe the tobacco industry is also underneath this delay, one way or the other. We know one of the antics of the tobacco industry is to frustrate legislation and to ensure that legislation is delayed. We hope it’s not the tobacco industry that’s behind this but anything is possible.