Nigeria steps up official anti-tobacco drive

( dpa )- The Nigerian government on Wednesday blocked the setting up of an 83-billion-dollar tobacco processing plant in the south-western state of Osun State in what is seen by observers as another official hammer blow to the industry.

The move came barely 48 hours after Nigeria dragged three international tobacco companies before an Abuja court, demanding 44 billion dollars in damages for the ailing health of smokers in Africa's most populous country.

Minister of Health Professor Adenike Grange announced the stoppage of the tobacco plant project at the inauguration in Abuja of an anti-tobacco civil rights group, Coalition Against Tobacco (CAT).

The government action, Grange said, was in line with the global fight against tobacco and the World Health Organisation's conceived Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The minister said that Nigeria was a signatory to the FCTC treaty conceived at the 53rd WHO Assembly in Geneva.

"Tobacco is known to be responsible for more than 25 diseases in man, including the 'silent killers' such as hypertension, heart attacks and cancer," Grange noted

Tobacco "is the only consumable whose usage is intended to harm ... as there has not been any proven benefit of tobacco to humans," she added.

Available data showed that tobacco killed five million people a year worldwide with more than 70 per cent of deaths occurring in developing countries, including Nigeria, the minister said.

She thanked members of CAT for their efforts in tobacco control in Nigeria and assured them of the government's support.

Sports Minister Hassan Gimba meanwhile said that legislation against smoking was not only on health grounds, but for economic reasons.

"The huge expenses incurred by government on health hazards caused by tobacco is greater than the tax being paid by the tobacco companies in Nigeria," he said.

Director-General of the National Agency Foods and Drugs Administration and Control, Professor Dora Akunyili , said that the agency would require tobacco companies in Nigeria to print warnings on each cigarette in capital letters.

The current caveat, which she said was not legible enough, merely warned that "smokers are liable to die young."

At the same inauguration, the minister in charge of the Nigerian capital city, Aliyu Umar , outlawed cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use in public places in Abuja.

He said he was prepared to give cigarette smokers a six-month moratorium before enforcing the law.

"From June, smokers entering into the FCT ( Federal Capital Territory) should learn to keep their packets of cigarettes at the border," he said.

Speaking in the same vein, the Minority leader in the Senate, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora , said that the Senate would accelerate passage of the relevant bill when the minister forwards it.

"Tobacco is another weapon of mass destruction," he said. "If we close our eyes to the evils caused by tobacco, we will be shying away from our statutory responsibility as lawmakers."

The Nigerian government had Monday asked for court orders restraining tobacco companies from representing or portraying to persons under the age of 18 years any alluring and misleading image regarding tobacco-related products.

It also asked the court to outlaw the sale and distribution of tobacco products within a one- kilometre radius of any school, hospital, cinema, or playhouse.

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