Pro-environment groups, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN), have accused the British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) of encouraging smoking and frustrating the bill that the Lagos state government signed into law to regulate smoking in public places within the state.
The groups expressed regrets that BATN is bent on thwarting the implementation of the law, in order to promote its commercial interest. They said the company has been organising programmes under the pretext of sensitising the public and law enforcement agents.
The bodies urged the Lagos state government not to be deceived on what it described as a deliberate attempt to mislead the people of the state.
“Series of visibility events organised by BATN including a sensitisation exercise last week for police officers in Lagos on enforcement of the anti-smoking law were nothing more than gimmicks to confuse the public and the police officers,” said Philip Jakpor, head of media ERA/FoEN.
“The event last week, sponsored by the British American Tobacco Marketing Nigeria Limited, under the theme, ‘Understanding the Lagos State Regulation of Smoking Law’, took place at the Police Officers’ Wives Association (POWA) Multi-purpose hall located in Ikeja.
“We are not deceived by BATN’s seeming interest in ensuring the implementation of the bill when in actual fact it is attempting to rewrite the law strictly for its commercial interests through deliberate misinterpretation of the meaning of smoke-free public places.”
ERA charged Lagos state government not to allow the antics of BATN distract it from enforcing the law, which is targeted at saving lives.
“The interests of BATN are strictly commercial and [it] would stop at nothing to confuse the general public and other regulatory agencies of government that are charged with enforcing the legislation.
“In the months since the bill was signed into law by Governor Babatunde Fashola, we have seen a host of articles syndicated across media organisations poking the law and urging so-called smokers [and] groups to challenge sections that protect non-smokers from the hazardous tobacco smoke.
“Is it not ironic that the same industry that sponsors those groups is now trying to lecture the police and general public on provisions of the law?
“We urge the Lagos state government to read the lips of BATN officials engaging in the so-called training on implementation of the bill. What we hear is double-speak and outright misrepresentation of the intent and spirit of the law.
Maintaining that the interest of Tobacco industry is not in line with public health, the groups urged the government to stamp its feet and ensure that the law is implemented to the letter.
“The Lagos state government must wake up to its responsibility of interpreting in clear terms the letters of the law so as not to leave the citizenry in a state of confusion as intended by the tobacco industry.”