As Nigerians continue to suffer tobacco related diseases, deaths
The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, Monday, expressed worry over the use of music and movie stars in Nigeria to promote tobacco smoking on various social media platforms by tobacco companies.
The Executive Director, CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, along with Director of Programmes, CAPPA, Philip Jakpor; Policy and Research Officer, CAPPA, Zikora Ibeh; and Programme Manager, CAPPA, Ogunlade Olamide, raised the concern during the launch of report on ‘Tobacco Industry Capture of Virtual Space in Nigeria’ at a media conference.
According to him, while explaining about the report in his speech, is to show how the tobacco industry is cunningly using social networking platforms to promote their Corporate Social Responsibility, CRS, activities and evading a ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships, TAPS, mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015.
The report alleged that companies such as British American Tobacco Nigeria, BATN, through its charity arm – British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation, BATNF, Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited, PMINL, and other tobacco entities operating in Nigeria perform visibility activities that polish their images, distance them from the harms of their products, and attract favourable comments on the internet.
The research, supported by a grant from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) on behalf of STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, researched popular social networking platforms between 2016 and 2021 and flagged 226 activities involving tobacco companies and their allies in Nigeria.
The activities are categorized under CSR, promotions, recognition, endorsement, partnerships, advertising, and sponsorships.
Tobacco companies while embarking on their CSR activities deploy different strategies to gain the affection of policymakers, reflect partnerships and collaboration with state institutions and organizations that ultimately help them build good public ratings. It also exposed growing cases of tobacco industry vendors such as Smoke Box Ng and Da Smoke Hub flouting the ban on advertising, promotion, and sponsorships by using their social media platforms to flagrantly market tobacco products.
According to the report, some of the platforms most exploited by the tobacco industry include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Blogs, and LinkedIn, while the sectors the industry is most active include agriculture, education, and entertainment. The most visibility activities performed by the tobacco industry were observed in 2018 and 2021.
Oluwafemi said: “The law was very clear when it says tobacco companies can do their Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, but the regulation says that anything that is perceived as advertising and promotion, so it is now left for the tobacco industry to prove that you are using smokehubng to promote smoking on how smoking is cool on people’s phones then that is now promotion, they have flaunted the existing law and have misinterpreted that.
“CAPPA found that tobacco vendors and distributors such as Smokehubng and Dasmokehub, use their social media platforms to aggressively promote sales of tobacco products and a smoking culture which relies largely on promoting content showing Nigerian music icons smoking profusely.”
The CAPPA boss also alleged that some state governments are commending activities of tobacco companies under the guise of performing CSR activities, and also the other government parastatals are commending their engagements and offers, but these tobacco companies fail to tell consumers on the social media the health hazards of smoking.
He also pointed that Section 18 (A) of the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019, expressly asks authorities in Nigeria to “not accept, support, or endorse partnerships, sponsorships, services and any monetary or non-monetary assistance from the tobacco industry except for compensations due to legal settlements or as mandated by applicable law.”
“Some tobacco companies in Nigeria court the partnerships of state authorities and corporate institutions to execute their CSR initiatives.
“Furthermore, Section 15 (4) of the National Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019 prohibits the use of social media to promote tobacco sales while Section 15 (4) of the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015, restricts a person from selling tobacco or tobacco related products via mail, internet, or online devices as a way of reducing tobacco consumption”, he said.
He revealed that tobacco industry most preferred and exploited digital and internet channels between 2016 and 2021 is Facebook which recorded 40 per cent, Twitter 36 per cent, and Youtube 14 per cent in the period under review. This was followed by Instagram five per cent, Blog/Website three per cent, and Linkedin two per cent.
He called on government to protect public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interest of the tobacco industry in line with Article 5.3 of WHOFCTC and commit to measures across all branches of government that may have an interest in, or capacity to, affect public health policies with respect to tobacco control; Enforce penalties for TAPS and tobacco control violations in compliance and accordance with National Tobacco Control and policies; and revoke all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, collaboration with the tobacco industry and their front groups.
Meanwhile, the Director of Programmes, CAPPA, Philip Jakpor, disclosed that CAPPA would soon meet with social media influencers on the matter.
“We are not restricting the unveiling of this report just to the media, and most of the things promoted on the virtual space are promoted by social media influencers.
“Some of them are very ignorant and as such we are going to have meetings with social media influencers where this report will be made available to them and made to understand that some of the things they are promoting actually flaunts the law, and they are actually being used by the tobacco industry and recruit them into this campaign, and they too would lend their voice to checkmate what the tobacco industry is doing in the virtual space.
“And it is very important even if the government put a law in place and there is no proper education the tobacco industry can manipulate that because it can manipulate anything”, Jakpor said.
According to him, the promotion of tobacco industry activities was amplified more by the Lagos and Oyo state governments as well as public entities that the tobacco industry partnered with to execute so-called empowerment and support initiatives.
“These public institutions provided news content by openly announcing partnerships with the tobacco industry, lauding and recognising their supposed philanthropic contributions. This worrisome trend of endorsement that tobacco industry CSR receive from them tend to give legitimacy to their claim of being socially responsible”, he added.
While presenting findings of the report, Programme Manager, CAPPA, Ogunlade Olamide, pointed that, “The law is very clear, and it became obvious that even state actors are ignorant, and when you see state actors totally submit platforms to tobacco industry is like there is an established marriage between the two. We also produce policy briefs that speaks directly to state responsibility.”
However, Olamide added that media organisations should guard their media space against promoting the tobacco industry.
Meanwhile, a Research Associate of Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa, Austine Iraoya, stressed that, “If there is any report like this in Nigeria I think this is the very first one.
“I also like to encourage based on my knowledge in the research industry here that knowledge uptake is something that is very tasking because there is one thing to do this research and another thing to take up this research .
“If this research can be broken down; things like policy briefs and bites that policymakers can lay their hands on , and deliberately let us also make effort to penetrate these policymakers in any fora by making sure this knowledge product gets to them”, Iraoya said.
Part of the recommendation in the report stated that government should urgently review 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. This includes providing clear definitions of terms such as ‘‘internet’’, ‘‘mail’’, ‘‘online’’, and ‘‘social media’’ that address TAPS in the virtual space; Strictly enforce Section 25 of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 which stipulates transparency, openness, and publicly available records of meetings and all interactions with the tobacco industry.
Train and engage the media, social media professionals, and digital influencers to raise awareness of the dangers of TAPS on the internet and play crucial roles in safeguarding the virtual platforms from TI manipulation; and Strengthen collaboration among relevant MDAs to perform oversight functions including, actively monitor and flag infractions of tobacco policies on the internet by the tobacco industry.
The media should assist in shaping public narratives on the dangers of tobacco use, and institute internal mechanisms that monitor and sieve out media reports, releases, and news items that advance or promote the business of TI in the virtual space.
Civil Society Organizations to: Sensitize the public on provisions of Nigeria’s national tobacco control policies including the dangers of tobacco products; Call out and hold the tobacco industry accountable for activities that violate the NTC Act 2015 and the NTC Regulations 2019; and 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.