The World celebrated World Tobacco Day at the weekend; Ayodele Samuel, in this report, takes a look at the effectiveness of the anti-public smoking law which banned smoking in public places in Lagos, last February.
Smoking in public Smoking in public is as old as the act of smoking itself and it is a habit that smokers like Akinila Ibrahim can’t stop no matter how hard he tries. “It is part of my life, it’s something I have done for a very long time and I don’t think I can ever stop smoking. I can’t hide it, so I smoke anywhere I can,” says Akinila, 35, who lives with his family in Lagos state, where smoking in public is said to be a crime punishable by law and attracts a fine of N20, 000 or three months jail term.
It will be recalled that the state government earlier in the year banned cigarette smoking in public places such as public toilets, tertiary institutions, public transport/motor parks, shopping centres, stadia, restaurants amongst others. The law also makes it a criminal offence to smoke in front of minors.
However since the signing into law of the bill, public places across the mega city are dotted with smokers who seem to be ignorant of the law just as the government appears not to be prepared about enhancing its implementation starting from the 17th of August this year.
Akinila who is not unaware of existence of the law is less worried because according to him, security agents too smoke freely in their stations, which are also public places.
“I know the government has said we should not smoke in public but who will arrest me for smoking on the street? Is it the police officers who smoke freely in their offices,” he wondered.
The case of Akinila is not unique, many other Lagosians have continued to engage in the act publicly unmindful of the consequences stipulated by the law.
Bassey Friday, another tobacco addict boasted that the law cannot make him stop from doing what he derives pleasure in doing. “I know am going to quit smoking in the nearest future, but I don’t know when it will be. For now, I cannot do without my cigarette, government law cannot stop anything. I will get my cigarette where I always get it from and smoke anywhere I find myself.”
Visits to several public places in some parts of Lagos by Peoples Daily showed that the law only exist on paper.
Operators of such places are also showing lack of enthusiasm in enhancing the law as they do not display the “NO SMOKING” sign on their premises as required by the law, while most motor parks in the state still play host to tobacco smokers and sellers.
Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW , Ikeja chapter, Alhaji Muyiwa Okunola said its union is collaborating with the state government to enforce the anti tobacco law, while disregarding presence of tobacco sellers at their various parks, saying however, that “It is an offence to smoke while driving, smoking is totally prohibited for drivers; obviously it is not just for safety reasons it is also for health reasons because we are moving towards banning smoking in all public places.
“It is an offence to drive while drunk; if you’ve been taking drugs, this law provides for blood test to determine whether you have ingested drugs which are inconsistent with your ability to drive.
Traders who deal in tobacco products and local gin said the law is an attack on their source of livelihood.
“I felt a big blow, our sales had reduced earlier”, said a trader who refused to disclose her name at the Ikeja motor park, but who heaved a sigh of relief that smokers are now making a comeback in a big way as they can now smoke their cigarettes without offending the government or anybody.
Tinuke Ojo, who also sells tobacco/cigarettes in Ogba area of the state showed lack of awareness about the law banning cigarette smoking in public places but recalled that her sales dropped at a point.
‘‘There was one time people stopped buying cigarettes from me, I didn’t know what happened to my customers then but everything has changed now, I am selling very well now. I get customers everyday and sell up to fifteen packs of cigarette a day’’
Experts are however worried about the enforcement of the law.
President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Osahon Enabulele, is worried about how the public will comply given “the sub-optimal levels of public awareness and health education on the dangers associated with tobacco smoking.”
“We are also worried over the absence of cigarette smoking withdrawal programs, particularly as it affects the fate of citizens who have not been prepared for the drastic withdrawal from the highly addictive and cancer inducing substances contained in cigarettes,” he said.
He noted that nicotine patches and e-cigarettes that mitigate the withdrawal symptoms in smoke quitters are not readily available in Nigeria.
Also the national chairman, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria (APHPN), Professor Tanimola Akande explained that non-smokers who are exposed to second hand smoking in restaurants, government buildings and health care facilities die as a result of complication arising from tobacco epidemic.
Besides, several others suffer poor quality of life sequel to tobacco related sickness.
Akande also disclosed that about 18 million children are exposed to second hand smoke in their homes while 27 million are exposed in public places.
He said that the recent Global Adult Survey (GATS) carried out in Nigeria revealed that most people were exposed to second hand smoking in public places. “Worldwide, the tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year while many more suffer poor quality of life from tobacco related sicknesses.
“Not only smokers die from smoking as evidence shows that for every eight smokers who die from smoking, one non-smoker die from second hand smoke.”
However Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA says anybody caught smoking in public places in Lagos State will be arrested and prosecuted from the 17th of August.
General Manager, LASEPA, Engr. Rasheed Shabi, said enforcement would begin on 17 August, 2014, reiterating that government did not ban smoking in Lagos, but banned smokers from smoking in public places.
He said when the smoking bill was signed into law by Governor Babatunde Fashola on 17 February, 2014, six months grace was given to enable proper sensitization to be carried out before enforcement.
“We have engaged hoteliers and told them to create a place where smokers can smoke and such places must be ventilated. Industries, event centres and others should carve out specific places where smokers can smoke but not in public places.
“We are the agency that will implement this law and enforcement will start on 17 August. Our staff will go round to ensure that people comply with this law by not smoking in public places. We are up to the task and if there is need for more staff, we will request for such,” he added.
“We will unveil the non-smoking signs that will be put in public places to stop people from smoking in such places and we will be doing this sensitization in collaboration with the British Tobacco Company,” he added.