CAPPA calls on gov’t to regulate tobacco industry virtual space activities

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The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has called on the Nigerian government to do more to monitor and regulate the activities of the tobacco industry in the virtual space.

It said: “While Nigeria has made some enviable strides in regulating the activities of the tobacco industry since the implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Regulations 2019, it is evident that a lot still needs to be done in monitoring and regulating their activities in the virtual space.”

This was signed and copied to the Ghana News Agency by Mr Philip Jakpor, CAPPA Director of Programmes on a research report titled: “Tobacco Industry Capture of the Virtual Space in Nigeria – June 2022.”

The research was to expose how tobacco companies utilized social networking platforms and news in Nigeria to publicize their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in ways that burnished their image, distanced them from the harms of their products and attracted favourable comments on the internet.

The study was sponsored through a grant provided by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) on behalf of STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog.

The report said with over 109.2 million internet users at the start of January 2022, the increasing use of the internet in Nigeria bolstered by its burgeoning young demographic, comprising more than 70 per cent of its over 200 million population, made it a highly desirable market for the tobacco industry.

It said the presence of many young persons and adults alike on social networking sites had heralded unanticipated opportunities for the tobacco industry to shape how they crafted their messages and used iconic images to negotiate a positive perception in the minds of Nigerians.

“There are no elaborate safeguards in the NTC Act 2015 and NTC Regulations 2019 in relation to tobacco industry activity in the virtual space. The tobacco industry in Nigeria continues to skillfully exploit and circumvent the gaps in the law to operate without supervision in the virtual space,” it stated.

The report said it was thus important for tobacco control advocates, policymakers, and state authorities in Nigeria to note these emerging challenges and realities to counter and expose the tobacco industry’s dominance of the virtual space.

It noted that for the Nigerian government to urgently address the challenges posed by the tobacco industries in the virtual space, it must protect public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests.

“This must be line with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) and to commit to implementing these measures across all branches of government that may have an interest in, or the capacity to, affect public health policies with respect to tobacco control,” the report stated.

The government should strictly enforce Section 12 of Act 2015, which prohibited all forms of Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships including corporate social responsibility (CSR) that advertise or promote the tobacco industry.

It also called for the review of legal provisions and terms in the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, that are vague, without interpretation, and likely to be subjectively interpreted by the tobacco industry and its allies.
The report urged civil society organisations to raise public awareness of the dangers of tobacco products, including the unlawful activities of the tobacco industry in the virtual space and offline, while calling out and holding the industry accountable for activities that violate the NTC Act 2015 and the NTC Regulations 2019.

“The CSOs should continually urge the Nigerian government to strictly enforce and implement provisions of the NTC Act 2015, and the NTC Regulations 2019 that regulate and monitor the activities of the tobacco industry in the virtual and non-virtual space,” it further advised.

The report entreated the media to assist in shaping public narratives on the dangers of tobacco use, institute internal mechanisms to monitor and sieve out media reports, releases, and news items that advance or promote the business of tobacco industry in the virtual space.

The CAPPA works to advance human rights, challenge corporate abuse of natural resources and build community power for inclusive development and participatory governance.

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