On July 11, 2013, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Nigeria report was officially presented to the general public at a launch event which held at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja and chaired by the Honorable Minister of Health, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu. In attendance were representatives of relevant agencies including the World Health Organisation, National Assembly, Ministry of Education, National Bureau of Statistics and civil society organisations.
One of the major focus of the GATS report is second hand smoke and according to the statistics released, three specific places represent top locations where more than 50% of adults in Nigeria are exposed to secondhand smoke. The three locations are restaurants (29.3%), workplace (17.3%) and government buildings (16.7%).
These figures when weighed against the percentage of people who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the home (6.6%) show that there is an urgent need to protect the health of people who do not smoke but by virtue of having to go to their place of work, visit a restaurant or honour appointments with government officials find themselves in the position of passive smokers. The figures also show that our level of knowledge on the impact of smoking on non-smokers is low. This is because if majority of Nigerians were aware, tobacco control would today be a front burner issue across major media platforms and at most foras.
Prior to the presentation of scientific evidence on the devastating effects of inhaling environmental tobacco smoke by the World Health Organisation (WHO), smokers guiltlessly carried out their act whenever and wherever and non smokers also did not mind flocking around them innocently. However, with the signing and ratification of the FCTC by 177 countries, several nations have stood up to the occasion to protect the health of non-smokers in their homelands by banning smoking in public places.
Ireland was the first to introduce an outright ban on smoking in workplaces and this has been in effect in the country since March 29, 2004. As a result of the ban, smoking in bars, restaurants, clubs, offices, public buildings, company cars, trucks, taxis and vans became a punishable offence and any enclosed workplace found contravening is made to pay a fine of £3,000 (≈N450,000) per smoker found in the premises.
In the United Kingdom, each constituent administration instituted the ban at different times before end of July 2007. The ban came into force in Scotland on March 26, 2006, in Wales on April 2, 2007, in Northern Ireland on April 20, 2007 and finally in England on July 1, 2007. Similar to the provisions in Ireland, persons who flout the ban are made to pay an on-the-spot fine of £50 (≈N12,500) each while businesses that allow smoking are fined £2,500 (≈N375,000) in England and Northern Ireland.
As for the United States of America, the ban on smoking in public places has been handled on a state by state basis. At present, 28 states have enacted smoking bans in all general workplaces and public places, six states have prohibited smoking in workplaces but exempt all adult venues including bars while different cities and counties in ten states have varying degrees of smoking bans in place.
In June 2013, Russia joined the league of countries with nationwide smoking bans. The Russian ban proscribes smoking on public transportation, at airports and train stations, inside schools and hospitals among other public spots. In addition, cigarette ads are also to vanish from streets and smoking is not allowed to be featured in Russian-made movies and cartoons.
I remember that in 2008, the Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar-led administration in the Federal Capital Territoty, announced a smoking ban which made it illegal to smoke in public places, however due to weak enforcement and inadequate public education, the FCT is yet to be a smoke-free city. Other states in Nigeria such as Osun and Ekiti have also made attempts at introducing smoking bans as it is on record that the Osun State House of Assembly passed a bill to prohibit smoking in public places on 20 October, 2009 and the Ekiti State House of Assembly did likewise on September 26, 2012.
I do not need to remind Lagosians of the Traffic Law passed in July 2012 which outlawed smoking while driving and it is interesting to note that the Lagos House of Assembly has gone a step further by initiating a new comprehensive bill on regulation of smoking in public places. Sadly, despite these bold steps, many still fear the laws might not be strongly enforced.
Countries that have long enforced nationwide bans are today enjoying diverse health benefits including improved air quality and pulmonary function, reduction in cases of heart diseases and stroke, increase in number of people who quit smoking, drop in cigarette sales and prevention of deaths.
I sincerely look forward to the day when non-smoking Nigerians will be free from the puffs of smoking colleagues, neighbours and co-users of public amenities. I know the day will come but I’ll like to ask the authorities concerned, what are we waiting for?
In order not to wait for too long, you can join the Tobacco Control Campaign by signing up as a Cause Champion. Simply send your 1) Name, 2) Email address, 3) Telephone number and 4) Location to: info(at)socialresponsibilitymanagers.org. Signing up will get you a chance to have a specially designed Facebook, Twitter and G+ profile banner graced with Stella Damasus’ picture.
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