Lagos anti-smoking bill - National Mirror

By The Citizen
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The quest for better health and protection of the environment in Lagos received a boost on January 20, 2014, when the state's House of Assembly passed a bill prohibiting smoking in public places. While not strictly a deterring law, the bill seeks to restrict reckless smoking that might not only be inimical to the safety of the smokers themselves, but also members of the public exposed to tobacco fumes. The bill said owners of hotels, bars, night clubs and tertiary institutions, etc., should designate areas in their establishments where smokers could do their thing. But the bill did not ban smoking in such places as streets, roads and highways, as well as private homes and residences. It, however, forbids smoking in the presence of youths below 18 years of age and imposes punitive sanctions of N15, 000 fine or imprisonment for a term of one month or both on culprits.

The penalty for smoking in a 'no smoking' area is N10,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not less than one month and not exceeding three months or both. The penalty for non-compliance by owner/occupier of premises on a 'no-smoking area' is N100, 000 or six months imprisonment or other non-custodial punishments that the judge may deem fit. This certainly is a welcome development.

We commend the Lagos State House of Assembly for this brilliant initiative. To start with, reports indicated that the state legislature organised public hearing on the piece of legislation, where the opinion of stakeholders, including the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of tobacco were heard before the bill was drafted. Therefore, the process afforded a wholesome appraisal of the issue at stake.

The health risks linked to tobacco smoking are well-documented. Cigarettes have been found to contain more than 4,000 chemical compounds with at least 400 toxic substances. These cause health hazards like lung cancer, cancer of the oesophagus, pulmonary thrombosis, cerebral thrombosis, asthma, high blood pressure, cognitive disorder, kidney failure etc. Unfortunately, non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco fumes (side-stream-smoke) are also susceptible to all these dangers. Thus the need to, at least, regulate smoking in public places. But such a difficult- to-enforce provision like criminalising smoking in the presence of persons less than 18 years-old needs to be reviewed. The good intention is obvious. It is desirable to protect youths within the impressionable age and are susceptible to reckless imitation of the older folks, from exposure to the health-challenging practice of smoking. But task of enforcing this provision will be herculean. A fellow, for example, who wants to smoke in a non-prohibited place will hardly expected to conduct census of young-looking people around to determine if any of them falls below 18 years of age.

Likewise, a law enforcement agent who wishes to make arrest would probably have to guess the age of those around a non-prohibited area to be able to determine whether or not to effect the arrest. Perhaps, it will be necessary to conduct scientific tests, like Magnetic Resonance Imaging, for example, to determine the age of young ones in this context! This particular provision appears neither expedient nor pragmatic. It should therefore be expunged before the bill is signed into law. On the contrary, the creation of special smoking centres in some public facilities is desirable, since the intent of the bill is not to criminalise smoking itself, but to bar non-smokers from unwanted exposure to tobacco smoke. We recommend, however, that the state carries out a massive public enlightenment campaign to sensitise the populace on the law to ensure sufficient compliance.

The purpose of any penal law is to discourage particular practices or conducts, not the sadistic desire to jail citizens or extort fines from them. We believe the purpose of this proposed law is not different. Accordingly, there is the need for adequate and proper exposure of Lagos residents to the emerging law. The law seeks a new orientation. It is also public knowledge that it takes peoples time to adopt new practices, especially if they have to give up the old ones. Therefore, no amount of public enlightenment campaign on the need to limit smoking should be deemed too much, especially as it is only Lagos State out of the 36 states in Nigeria that is about to implement this kind of law. We advise that Governor Babatunde Fashola should not rush signing the bill into law until there is adequate awareness by the people on the subject.