“The smokes from their cigarettes were coming in our direction and we told them politely that since we came here before them, they should change their seating position,” said one of the youth who identified himself as Fred.
“Instead, one of them replied that we should be happy to be inhaling their smokes. And that was an insult,” he added.
Cigarette smoking has remained a common sight in most public places in the country, but with the passage of the National Tobacco Control Bill, it is expected that the practice would be kept in check, analysts say.
The Senate had on March 15, 2011, in a unanimous vote passed the Bill, which was sponsored by Olorunnimbe Mamora, a senator representing Lagos East senatorial district.
The bill, which had been in the legislative chamber for more than two years, domesticates the World Health Organisation-initiated Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global standard for tobacco control. Nigeria has signed and ratified the treaty.
The major highlights include: ban on single sticks sale of cigarettes; ban on tobacco advertisement; sponsorship and promotions; ban on selling cigarettes to persons under the age of 18; ban on smoking of tobacco products in public places, which includes airports and public buildings; and ban on selling single stick cigarettes, among others.
“Basically, the bill will bring to the awareness of Nigerians the issue of tobacco relating to its deadliness,” said Emmanuel Odiase, an anti-tobacco activist.
“It will interest you to know that a lot of Nigerian smokers don’t even know the real dangers of tobacco use. More surprisingly, non-smokers don’t know that Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) harms them as much as mainstream smoke harms the smoker,” said Mr Odiase, the founder of SmokeFreeNigeria Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on tobacco-related health issues.
The National Tobacco Control Bill repeals the Tobacco Control Smoking Act of 1990, which was promulgated under the military and championed by former health minister, late Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. The current bill is a comprehensive law providing for regulations of supply and demand measures of tobacco products.
The bill was presented on the floor of the Senate for second reading on February 2009 and a public hearing was conducted in July 2009 before its eventual passage into law.
A survey of some public places in Lagos revealed that while most joints in areas like Victoria Island and Ikeja have already enforced a no-smoking policy in their bars even before the passage of the tobacco control bill, the ones in the suburbs seem to pay little or no attention to it.
“We had already started implementing a no-smoking rule even before we heard about the tobacco control bill,” said Ben Ops, the manager of Kingsize, a popular bar in Ikeja, Lagos.
“We don’t allow anyone to smoke inside the restaurant or at the bar. We usually tell them to go outside if they want to smoke, or they can go to the sports lounge,” said Mr Ops.
Mayowa Ibrahim, a supervisor at Jade Place, Victoria Island, said that customers have been very co-operative towards their no-smoking policy.
“If you go to the restaurant, for instance, you will not see anyone smoking because people bring their children here as well,” Mr Ibrahim said.
Analysts, however, have expressed worries over the enforcement and implementation of the law. According to the Act, any person who smokes tobacco contrary to the provisions of the Act shall be guilty of offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N200 and not exceeding N1,000 or to imprisonment to a term of not less than one month and not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
“I understand that in Nigeria, a lot of laws have been passed and in the space of days or weeks, nothing is heard about these laws, mainly owing to poor implementation and enforcement,” said Mr Odiase.
“Now, you may say that law enforcers like the police even sometimes smoke in the streets. Let me tell you now: it is not business as usual. Even the police man who violates the law will be punished. Above all, there will be a special intelligent task force to oversee the whole process. They will definitely not be in uniform, so watch out,” he further said.
Almost six million people die from tobacco use each year, both from direct tobacco use and indirect inhalation of smoke, according to the World Health Organisation.
By 2020, this number will increase to 7.5 million, accounting for 10 per cent of all deaths.
“It should be properly understood that the (tobacco control) bill is not to hunt anyone or frustrate businesses from operation,” said Mr Odiase.
“It is for our own good. In the long run, we all will realise the good we did to ourselves for accepting the law and abiding by it,” he added.
By Ben Ezeamalu