A Primer on Tobacco Consumption and Regulation in Nigeria

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The control of tobacco is a policy issue of increasing concern to developing countries. In Africa, currently the largest market for tobacco companies, governments are taking measures to implement bans on the purchase and public consumption of tobacco products.

This essay highlights efforts by the Nigerian government at regulating the use of tobacco among its population. It starts by giving a brief overview of tobacco consumption in Nigeria, government efforts at enforcing regulations over the years, the breakthrough achieved through implementation of the Tobacco Control Act, and the challenges of implementing tobacco controls. Although Nigeria has secured a victory through the passage of the Tobacco Control Act, other significant hurdles remain which must be addressed if her goal of effectively regulating tobacco consumption is to be achieved.

Overview of Tobacco consumption in Nigeria

Nigeria is one of the three largest tobacco markets in Africa, others being Egypt and South Africa. Tobacco sales in Nigeria have continued for long with profits of the Nigerian tobacco companies increasing year on year. Although there are no records of consumers in Nigeria, a 2012 WHO report has estimated that Nigeria has a population of almost 13 million smokers, and 18bn cigarettes are sold each year at a value of about $931m (N185 billion). Nigeria has a relatively low smoking prevalence rate (Figure 1) compared to other countries across the globe.

Figure 1: Nigeria has one of the lowest smoking prevalence rates in the world

Table 1

Source: Tobacco Atlas (Third edition)

The smoking prevalence among males and females in Nigeria was 10% between 2012 and 2014. This percentage compares low to other West African countries, e.g. Burkina Faso which has a prevalence of 22%.


Figure 2: Smoking prevalence in Nigeria by region

smoking by region

Source: GATS (2012)

Nigeria has one of the lowest smoking prevalence rates among females, estimated at 1% of her population. This pales in comparison to countries like Papua New Guinea, Chile and the Russian Federation, which have smoking prevalence rates of 34%, 28% and 27% respectively among females. Smoking prevalence is low when compared to alcohol prevalence rated at 6.7% of the entire population aged 15 and above[1].

The median amount spent on one pack of 20 manufactured cigarettes is ₦187.70[2]. The Nigeria Global Adult Tobacco survey (GATS) published by the WHO[3] showed that the median monthly expenditure on manufactured cigarettes was N1202.5 Naira. On the whole, Nigerians spend an average of N7.45 billion on tobacco monthly, and N89.5 billion yearly. Trend figures reveal that the mean consumption per smoker has increased along with the number of adult smokers while smoking prevalence appears to have been on a decline (See figure 2 below). It is however important to note that the growth in Nigeria’s population has resulted in no significant reduction in smoking prevalence over the years. As of 1980, 9.5% of Nigeria’s population was 6.5 million, while 4.4% of Nigeria’s population as of 2012 was 7.4 million.

Figure 3: Trend analysis of tobacco consumption in Nigeria

figure 3

Source: Economist, JAMA, WHO

A lot of Nigerians are also exposed on a daily basis to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) also known as ‘second-hand smoke’. Overall, 29.3 % of the populations are exposed in restaurants, while 17.3% are exposed to smoke in the workplace.

Figure 4: A lot of Nigerians are exposed to second-hand smoke

figure 4

Source: GATS Nigeria (2012)

Second-hand smoke poses serious health risks worldwide, especially among infants. In fact, exposure to second-hand smoke is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths. In a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, (JAMA), smoking causes more than 80% of lung cancer deaths as well as 77% of larynx cancer deaths. According to data published on the American cancer society website, tobacco use accounts for 87% of lung cancer deaths in men and 70% of lung cancer deaths in women[4]. Tobacco also places a heavy burden on public finances with government spending enormously on treatment and cure of tobacco related diseases[5].

The harmful effect of tobacco use is what has motivated countries over the world to implement control measures on the consumption and advertisement of tobacco. The Nigerian government has over the years implemented measures aimed at controlling tobacco consumption among its population. The next section briefly reflects on the progress made thus far by the Nigerian government in achieving a “tobacco free” society.

Government efforts at reining in tobacco consumption

Till date, Nigeria has passed only two pieces of legislation aimed at controlling tobacco consumption among its citizens. These are the1990 Tobacco (Smoking) control decree and the 2015 Tobacco control Act. The 1990 tobacco (smoking) control decree banned smoking in certain public spaces, and advertisement of tobacco products among other provisions and remained was in place until 2004 when the country signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. However, the bill took years to be incorporated into Nigerian laws. The slow passage of the bill and increasing health challenges led to the suing of Big tobacco in 2007 by three Nigerian states (Lagos, Gombe and Kano) and the Federal government. “Big tobacco”, a collective name used to refer to British American Tobacco, Phillip Morris (Altria) and International Tobacco for $38.6 billion. Subsequently the Nigerian government withdrew the suit without any reasons adduced for its withdrawal. It is speculated that Big Tobacco may lobbied the Nigerian government to have the cases withdrawn.

Big tobacco has always influenced legislation aimed at restricting their activities or affecting their profits. In 2008, a draft reading of the Tobacco control bill passed through second reading in the Nigerian senate and then it went ‘missing’. In 2009, British American Tobacco (BAT), controller of the largest share of Nigeria’s tobacco market allegedly coordinated lobbying efforts in stalling passage of the Tobacco control bill[6].  That same year, the Tobacco control bill passed through the senate but never received the required Presidential assent. The same situation repeated itself in 2011. The Bill was finally signed into law by Nigeria’s outgoing president, Goodluck Jonathan, hours to the end of his tenure on May 29, 2015.

Figure 5: Delays in Passage of Key Tobacco Regulations

figure 5

The National Tobacco Control Act shares similarities with the 2005 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).A quick comparison of the 1990 Tobacco Control Decree and 2015 Tobacco Control Act is highlighted below:

Tobacco control Decree 1990 Tobacco Control Act 2015
1.      Restriction of smoking in Cinema, theatre, offices, public transportation, lifts, medical establishments, schools and Nursery institutions. Comprehensive prohibition of smoking contained in the second schedule to the Act. Prohibition now extends to restaurants, bars, places of worship, police stations, etc.
2.      Restriction of tobacco adverts in Newspaper, Magazines, Radio, Television, Cinema, Billboards, and handbills Restriction of tobacco adverts and any public statement, communication, representation or reference that promotes or publicizes tobacco or a tobacco product or encourages use or draws attention to the nature, properties, advantages or uses of the product. Also restricts product stacking and product displays of any kinds or size; the use of any advertisement or promotion of a tobacco product aimed at the public where the name or any part of the name of the product being advertised is used as or is included in a tobacco product trademark.
3.      Tobacco packages to contain certain information such as Federal Ministry of Health Warnings inscribed on the package and the amount of tar and Nicotine stated on the pack. Clear distinctions in s.4 of the Act, providing regulations pertaining to the export, import and transportation/ transfer of tobacco products within the country. Signs are to be placed on retail outlets that the law prohibits sales to underage persons. Responsibility also placed on retailer to dismiss persons. Also Every package containing a tobacco product shall have at least two un-obscured health warning labels and/or health messages, covering 50% of the principal display or total surface area
4.      Penalties for smoking between N100 and 1,000, and/or imprisonment terms of between 1 month and 2 years Penalties increased to N25, 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both.
5.      Advertisement of tobacco products carries a fine of N5, 000 and imprisonment term not exceeding 3 years. In accordance with s. 18 advertisement of tobacco products imposes fines not exceeding five hundred thousand naira, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both.


As can easily be seen from the above table, the recently signed Act surpasses the 1990 Decree in all ramifications, taking into account the WHO-FCTC provisions. In spite of its comprehensive formulation however, some core policy issues have not been addressed by the bill, which may affect implementation efforts in the long run.

Challenges of enforcement of tobacco control regulations in Nigeria

Significant policy issues that the Tobacco Control Act failed to address include the problem of smokeless tobacco and counter-productive CSR programs by Tobacco companies.[7]

According to a study conducted in 2012 by Euromonitor, Nigeria was to have a 77% growth in the volume of smokeless tobacco. According to information released on the website of the American cancer society, smokeless tobacco, although less lethal than cigarettes are still deadly and have not been proven to help smokers quit. The implication is that Nigerian cigarette consumers are merely going to switch products.

The WHO-FCTC implores countries to place ban on CSR programs by tobacco companies because of the ‘hypocrisy’ behind their programs. However, Nigeria is yet to do so because of the economic implications. British American Tobacco in Nigeria (BATN), the tobacco company with the largest share of the Nigerian market, engages in CSR programs that target 70% of rural farmers. In 2014, BATN provided over ₦280 million interest free loans to tobacco farmers in Nigeria. According to information contained on their website, British American Tobacco Nigeria contributed ₦108 million ($719,000) of corporate social investment in 2010 in the communities where they operate. In 2007, when the federal government instituted proceedings against the company in court, BATN donated a fleet of Ford Ranger trucks to the Nigerian Customs Service and “pumped” $300 million (₦59 billion) into the local economy. This translates directly into a serious lack of political will to enforce tobacco regulation.

Looking at the bigger picture of health and development, Nigeria is set to lose in the long run if it does not act quickly to stop tobacco consumption. A report published by the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) group estimates that the Nigerian government spends as much as US$591 million yearly on medical treatment as a result of tobacco consumption in the country[9]. A study by the WHO between 2005-2008 estimates that 30% of total number of cigarettes consumed (valued at ₦55.5 billion) in Nigeria are smuggled into the country. Head of Regulatory Affairs, British American Tobacco (West Africa), Sola Dosunmu, said the tobacco sector loses over £17 billion globally to smuggling (₦ 524 billion) and other forms of illicit trading. Dosunmu also noted that Nigeria loses $200 million (₦61 billion) annually to illicit tobacco trade. The Tobacco Atlas, a publication of the World Lung Foundation and American cancer society has also warned that governments will miss the Sustainable Development Goals target of reducing premature deaths from Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one-third by 2030.


In developing countries generally, tobacco consumption is a policy issue because of the increasing health implications. In Africa, currently the largest market for tobacco companies, governments are implementing measures to control consumption of tobacco products. However, there have been difficulties imposing and enforcing restrictions on the use of tobacco. The lobbying by ‘Big tobacco’ has caused considerable delay in reforms especially in Nigeria. Nevertheless, Nigeria has made a significant leap through the signing of the Tobacco Control Act by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. However, the bill has failed to address the issues of smokeless tobacco as well as Corporate Social Responsibility by Big Tobacco companies. Addressing some of the policy issues as highlighted will go a long way towards achieving the goals of regulating tobacco consumption.

[1] http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/profiles/nga.pdf

[2] http://ntcang.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NTCA-Policy-Brief-on-the-NTCB.pdf

[3] The GATS is a national household survey which enables countries collect data on adult tobacco use and control measures. Nigeria was the first African country to do so. The report highlighted some of the issues associated with the use and control of tobacco such as the prevalence rates and exposure to second-hand smoke. According to the report, 4.5 million adults used tobacco products while 3.1 million Nigerians smoked tobacco.


[5] The estimate of direct and indirect costs of smoking for EU/EFTA countries is €97.7 billion, of which the direct costs of smoking are €49.83 billion, and the indirect costs of smoking are €47.87 billion. This amounts to between €211 and €281 per capita (for both smokers and non-smokers), or between 1.04% to 1.39% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product in 2000. See more http://www.smokefreepartnership.eu/news/cost-tobacco-use

[6]http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/104856-investigation-underhand-tactics-illegal-advertising-raise-british-american-tobaccos-profits-in-nigeria-africa.html. According to Nigeria health watch, BATN presents itself as a stakeholder in Nigeria’s agriculture sector through CSR programs, targeting rural farm communities that make up 70% of Nigeria’s population. See http://nigeriahealthwatch.com/we-cannot-be-complacent-about-the-nigeria-tobacco-control-bill/


[8] http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/160289-tobacco-control-advocates-accuse-batn-enslavement-farmers-inflating-prices-fertilizers.html

[9] http://dailyindependentnig.com/2014/07/nigeria-loses-591m-annually-tobacco-smoking-era/

Jubril Shittu writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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