By Emmanuel Adesuji, Abuja.
The Senate President, Senator David Mark on Wednesday revealed how lobbyists and pressure groups halted the signing into law a bill banning cigarette smoking in Nigeria.
The bill was passed by the sixth National Assembly that ended in May 2011, but failed to receive President Goodluck Jonathan assent.
“Powerful groups were behind the Bill and I remember that in the Sixth Senate a lot of lobbyists were all over the place when this Bill was being debated. So I am not surprised that we eventually didn’t sign it. But we should have the courage to at least do something. I don’t think we should just leave it that way this time around.”
Mark, who spoke at plenary after listening to the debates on National Tobacco Control bill which scaled through second reading, prayed that the bill is signed into law when it is passed by the National Assembly..
He said banning cigarette smoking is far more desirable and that there are a lot of countries that have tried to debate the issue of total ban on cigarette and smoking.
“My prayer is that this time around once we pass this bill, I hope that it will be signed because we were just left hanging at the moment. It is neither here nor there. Nothing has been done,” he remarked.
Adding that: “Hopefully this time around the executive would be able to sign it. Those who should determine it will be the general public – Nigerians – but let me remind us also that this Bill is not just a Nigerian Bill. It is far more important because there are a lot of countries that have tried to debate the issue of total ban on cigarette and smoking.
He also explained that the purpose the bill is to let Nigerians know the dangers inherent in smoking and to also seek to regulate advertisement on cigarette smoking.
“We have gone one step further to well ban it also but when it goes to public hearing then we will get public opinion on that.
“Let me remind us that we passed this Bill actually in the Sixth Senate and Senator Olorunmibe Mamora was the sponsor. He talked extensively and we had a similar debate the same way we talked now: ‘people who want to go to hell and they see it, if they want they want to walk in there, we should allow them to walk in there.
“Others said no ‘it is strident, don’t let them walk in there.’ When it goes to public hearing they will tell you whether people should really be allowed to walk to hell or we should restrain them from walking to hell. But the dangers inherent in smoking are very obvious and I think that at the end of the day we would be able to get feelers from the general public.”
Speaking on the bill, Senator Smart Adeyemi, said,” I rise to support this bill. To support this bill, I want to also say that tobacco deserves to be banned in this country. Today, as we are here deliberating on this bill, I have looked round and said to myself that how many of our colleagues are smoking here.
“I doubt if there is anybody here that smokes and I want to say here that the rich, the highly placed Nigerians have come to realize the harm that smoking does to the health, that is why they don’t smoke.
According to Adeyemi, “Smoking was fashionable, so to speak in the 60s and 70s. Then, people smoked and they looked at it that they have attained a particular class, they would smoke and show that they were smoking. Now, Nigerians have come to realized that it is not something to be encouraged.
So, the question now is, who are the people that engaged in smoking? When you go to Nigerian universities, you see student smoking in the afternoon and night and those who smoke among the students are the poor people, people who are going through the hard economic situation, they resort to smoking as a way of easing pressure.
“I do not see any reason why we should be here and still encourage tobacco in Nigeria because I do not believe in any economic benefit the cigarette is contributing to our economy. I think we are a blessed nation and we should do everything possible to save the younger ones.” Adeyemi argued.
Imo Senator, Chris Anyanwu said,” I support the bill because I have come to see that all the countries where people smoke openly are the poorest countries in the world. This bill is really to save lives, we want money, we want jobs but we don’t want jobs in an area that will lead to massive death. We should make it very uncomfortable for people to smoke.
After extensive debate, senators supported a total ban on smoking of cigarette. The Senate passed the bill into second reading and consequently sent it to Senate Committee on Health and any committee that is interested in the bill.