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Smoking Bill: Tough Times For Carefree Smokers

Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji
Speaker, LAHA, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji

The passage of a bill by the Lagos State House of Assembly restricting smoking in public places has opened fresh discourse among stakeholders, smokers and non-smokers alike, writes Gbenga Adeniji of The Punch.

In Lagos State, it is no longer going to be ‘smoking as usual.’ A new bill passed last week by the Lagos State House of Assembly has made it an offence for smokers to smoke in public places.

The bill, which is awaiting the governor’s assent, highlighted such public places as libraries, museums, public toilets, schools, cinemas, concert halls, stadia, amusement arcades, conference centres, retail shops, elevators, hospitals, day care centres, public vehicles, shopping centres, call centres and restaurants.

The bill recommended penalties for violators ranging from N10,000 to N50,000 fines or imprisonment. It also consisted of 16 sections which explained the regulation of smoking in public places.

Part of the bill read, ‘‘(i) ‘Smoke’ or ‘smoking’ means the carrying of any lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette of any kind or any other lighted smoking equipment. (Ii) The lighting, inhaling or exhaling of smoke from a pipe, cigar or cigarette of any kind; or (iii) Being in possession of any other lit substance in a form in which it could be smoked.

“As from the commencement of this law, no person shall smoke in all public places including but not limited to the places listed in the schedules to this law and any other place listed as such by regulations made to the provisions of this law.’’

A smoker, Mr. Alphonsus Bright, who said the bill was a welcome development, added that it would allow smokers like him to be cautious when smoking. He noted that it was wrong to make others uncomfortable in the process of doing what one naturally enjoys.

Bright said, ‘‘I think it is wrong for anybody to make others feel awkward because one is doing what one derives enjoyment from. I enjoy smoking but I really don’t care where I smoke or whether others do not like it. But the bill and the penalties it recommends to anybody who smokes without care has made me realise it is a serious issue.’’

But another smoker, Ilesanmi Ilori, has a different view. He said smokers would have a tough time considering the places designated as public in the bill.

‘‘I read some part of the bill because I was curious to know the places marked as non-smoking zones. If smokers are prohibited from smoking in the many public places as contained in the bill, I am not sure if there is any place left. Even in my car I cannot smoke once I am not the only one inside it,’’ he said.

A non-smoker and banker, Mr. Uche Martins, stated that the move was laudable because it specifically aimed at protecting those who don’t smoke from second hand smoke.

In a similar vein, Mr. Shola Adewole, commended the passage of the bill but urged the Assembly to ensure adequate enforcement by empowering the relevant authorities.

He said, ‘‘It is a good bill that is designed to ensure sanity among smokers. But I urge the Assembly to make sure it is enforced. We have had good laws in this country but we always falter when it comes to enforcing them. The society will benefit greatly from the bill if its provisions are enforced and culprits sanctioned according. It should not be allowed to be a mere paper tiger’’

Sponsor of the bill, Mr. Gbolahan Yishawu told Sunday Punch that he sponsored it as part of his duties as a lawmaker in the state Assembly. He added that the bill was designed to ensure a cleaner and healthier citizenry as found in advanced countries.

The lawmaker representing Eti-Osa Constituency 2 also said as a non-smoker he knew the damage cigarette smoke could do to those who don’t smoke.

Yishawu said, ‘‘I did not sponsor the bill to stop smoking. But it is to caution smokers not to endanger the health of non-smokers in the process of smoking. Smokers do not have any problems as long as they do not cause trouble for others while smoking.’‘

According to him, there was adequate public hearing on the bill which was attended by tobacco makers, smokers, non-smokers and anti-tobacco organisations. He also identified Section 9 of the bill as the most important to him.

‘‘The section states that it is an offence to smoke in the presence of a child under the age of 18 in such a way, manner and place that may expose the child to any form of smoke and in any other ways injurious to the child. Anybody who violates it shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N15,000 or imprisonment for a term of one month or other non custodian punishment that the judge may deem fit, ‘’ he added.

Also, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria commended the passage of the bill. The group said it was timely, life-saving and represented a bold step that other states of the federation could copy from in order to save Nigerians from the effects of tobacco.

ERA/FoEN Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, while describing the move as a good start, added that the sustained engagement between the Assembly and the Ministry of Health to pass the bill eventually paid off.

Oluwafemi said, ‘‘It is our conviction that passing the bill is a major step towards finally instituting a comprehensive law that prioritises public health over illicit profits. We urge the National Assembly to take a cue from the Lagos State House of Assembly by passing the National Tobacco Control Bill to ensure uniform laws that will nip the gale of deaths that tobacco products have unleashed on Nigerians.’’

He further urged the state Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, to assent to the bill which he described as life-saving.

In an earlier interview with Sunday Punch, Secretary-General, Pan-African Society of Cardiology and a cardiologist at the Department of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Dr. Anisiuba Chukwuemeka, identified the health risks of second hand smoke to include different types of cancer such as cancer of the lung, kidney, brain and breast.

He said second hand smoke increases the frequency of developing infection of the air passages, such as ear, nose and throat infections.

Chukwuemeka said, ‘‘Allergic diseases of the air passages are also linked to second hand smoke. Women exposed to second hand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to deliver babies with low birth or babies with congenital malformations. It also causes sudden unexplained death in infants. Brain appears to age faster when one is exposed to such smoke. It causes cognitive impairment and dementia in individuals over 50 years. Incidence of heart attack increases with exposure to it.’’

According to him, it is estimated that in 603,000 deaths annually, about one per cent are caused by second hand smoke.

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