Is the ban on smoking in public still in place?

Between May 1st 2008 and June 1st of the same year, the federal capital territory authority embarked on what some termed an energetic mass oriented campaign, aimed at educating the residents on the ills of smoking and its attendant effects on the society. It was to serve as a precursor to the eventual ban on smoking in public places, a move which expectedly heralded its own unique brand of controversy. While many Abuja residents welcomed the move as timely, not a few others viewed it as a direct attack on their rights and privileges as residents of the capital city.

To show the seriousness of the development in the sight of the powers that be in Abuja, a high powered committee was set up by the incumbent minister, to muster the necessary political will to give the much needed bite to the campaign against smoking in public. The panel was made up of eminent officials such as the Director-General, Satellite Towns Development Agency, Engineer Abdullahi Buhari Dikko, the Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr. Abubakar Ali-Gombe, the Secretary of Education, Alhaji Hussaini Halilu Pai, FCT Solicitor–General, Mrs. Helen Oloja, Senior Special Assistant to the FCT Minister on Communications, Mr. Diran Onifade, Director of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Engineer Kenneth Okafor, the Regional Editor of Daily Sun, Mr. Eric Osagie and a representative of Coalition for Anti-Tobacco. It was chaired by the erstwhile Secretary of FCT Social Development Secretariat, Mrs. Felicita Banehita-Olajide.

The Tobacco Control Act of 1990 which was enacted by the Federal Government during the tenure of Professor Ransome Kuti as the Minister of Health, served as the foundation utilized by the panel to steamroll the attempts to nail defaulters of the ban. The FCT Administration also effectively used the “Public Health Act” to prosecute offenders in an attempt to elicit the support of residents in making the city a world class and inclusive city, as envisaged by successive administrations. However, two years down the line, the tempo appears to have thawed considerably, as it appears that smokers are now back fully in public glare, even as the authorities seem at a loss on what to do to enforce the ban.

Manager of Aneio hotels and gardens, Utako, Monday Nwabuene ascribes the lull in enforcement to lack of proper orientation by the authorities. He says that the government is equally not sincere about enforcing the ban, going by its ill preparedness to marshal the necessary resources to give credence to the ban, via public education and punitive measures for defaulters. On the other hand however, he adds that smoking cannot be totally eradicated in places like bars and gardens, where smoking is akin to patronage. “Smoking cannot be banned in places like bars. If it is enforced, then patronage may be affected. As you well know smoking and drinking go hand in hand, you cannot stop people from smoking even if you do not sell. You stand to lose customers, and they are the live wire of business, ask any manager of places like bars, gardens and parks. Furthermore, the government has not spelt out clearly for the purpose of mass enlightenment, what it specifies as ‘public places.’ Many people do not know that in the first place,” he notes.

According to Wikipedia Online, “a public space refers to an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. In places like that no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated against based on background. Most streets, including the pavement are considered public space, as are town squares or parks. Government buildings, such as public libraries and many other similar buildings are also public space. Public space is commonly shared and created for open usage throughout the community, where as private space is individually or corporately owned. ‘‘

Steve Agiende, supervisor of Sylvia’s Place, a blossoming garden in Jikwoyi, believes that majority of people who patronize places like bars and gardens, are actually people who do not mind smoking , even though they do not smoke. He sees no harm in allowing smokers into such places, as long as people do not mind. He enthuses: “sincerely, enforcing the ban will be difficult. How do you tell a customer to put out the lights of his or her cigarette? It is like telling him to leave the premises. And you know what that is capable of doing to business. Of course, in restaurants you will not see anybody smoking, but in a bar or garden that is impossible. And as long as people do not complain, I do not see the reason for the ban.”

A respondent, Nelly Ogbonnaya, however says that the fact that people do not complain in the presence of a smoker, does not mean that such persons are not appalled by the act. She says the need to be sociable and conformist in nature, accounts for why most people do not openly complain. “For someone like me, I do not hesitate to tell anyone smoking beside me to put out the lights of the cigarette, or at least turn it away from me. Why should I suffer the fate of a smoker, when I do not smoke? The ban is in order, and more needs to be done to ensure that it is enforced. Secondhand smokers suffer more than the hardened smokers,” she says.

She may be right on the mark. Serial research statistics on cumulative effects of smoking, show that secondhand smokers face tougher health challenges, than actual smokers. It also reveals some startling facts. Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals including arsenic ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, benzene, and vinyl chloride. It is known to cause cancer, coronary heart disease, and respiratory problems. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the end of a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar, and exhaled from the lungs of smokers. This is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Environmental tobacco smoke hangs around in the air for hours after the cigarette has been extinguished, and cause many health complications. It can cause premature death in children and adults who do not smoke, and is believed to cause about 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart deaths in adult nonsmokers in the United States each year. Other nations record equally huge casualties. Just over one in five children is exposed to secondhand smoke at home, where workplace bans don’t reach. Those children are at increased risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, lung infections such as pneumonia, ear infections, and more severe asthma.

Worldwide, a total of 3 million people die each year, on account of cigarette smoking. In many countries, smoking in public places is banned. People are not allowed to smoke even in cafes, pubs, and restaurants. In Norway, for instance, tobacco advertising has been banned for nearly thirty years. Despite this, one in every three people is prone to tobacco related deaths. In Canada there are graphic images, on cigarette packets, that show the damage it has to the internal organs on account of smoking. These images warn smokers about the ill effects of smoking. In Ireland, strict anti-smoking legislation has been introduced, to discourage smoking. Other countries have used different methods to ban smoking in public places. In many of such nations, health boards and state authorities, are having running battles trying to enforce such public bans. It is an uphill task for many.

Manager of Jimson Hotels and Gardens, Godwin Osayon says that the task would be much easier when those in authority stop playing lip service to the issue. “How many of our leaders crying wolf over cigarette smoking, are not actually chain smokers themselves. Go to the national assembly, go to the government boards, even those in the security outfits, you will find smokers. On the streets you will find uniformed men openly smoking. And these are the people enforcing the laws. That is hypocrisy of the highest order. If they want to enforce the ban, let them start from the top and move downwards. Or is the law meant just for the masses alone?” he queries.

Despite the controversy the anti smoking campaign continues to generate, Secretary, FCT Social Development Board, Mrs Blessing Onuh , says that the ban remains in force. In a phone interview she stated that even though there appears to be a lull, it does not mean that the FCT authority was sheathing its sword in the battle to make the thorny issue of smoking in public, a thing of the past. “At present we are in the process of fine-tuning the law banning smoking in public. A bill is presently before the national assembly aimed at making the law to conform to modern realities. The punitive measures against defaulters which is put at a ludicrous N200, needs to be overhauled thoroughly, so that it can serve as a tougher deterrent for defaulters. How can you fine people who flout the law N200, and expect them to take you serious? Once the law is reworked by the law makers, to make it more stringent, we will move out.

once more to restrain erring persons who are found flouting the ban. That we are not doing that now actively does not mean that the ban on smoking in public has been lifted. It remains very much in place, “she states.

By Tosin Omoniyi
Dailytrust, 23 June 2010

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