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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Anti-smoking law: Only 1% of Nigerians are protected by smoke-free laws —Report

By Waheed Bakare

Only one per cent of Nigeria’s over 140 million people are protected by strong smoke-free laws, a new report released last Wednesday by Global Smokefree Partnership and the American Cancer Society has revealed.

Besides, the report also stated that in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, 55 per cent of school pupils were not aware that secondhand smoke is harmful to health.

Medical experts had repeatedly said there was scientific evidence that secondhand smoke was a proven cause of serious diseases and premature death.

According to the report, “Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smokefree Air,” nearly 90 per cent of people on the African continent are without meaningful protection from secondhand smoke.

The report noted that it was worrisome that Africa, which accounted for 14 per cent of the world’s population, had just four per cent of the world’s smokers today. Despite the infinitesimal percentage of the world’s smokers on the continent, the report noted that African nations would soon undergo the highest increase in the rate of tobacco use among developing countries, “with more than half the continent expected to double its tobacco use within 12 years if current trends continue.”

“If we don’t act now on tobacco control in Africa, millions of lives will be lost because tobacco is now becoming an issue in Africa,” Tom Glynn of the Global Smokefree Partnership told the Agence France Presse.

Despite the gloomy picture, the report noted that many African countries were resisting tobacco industry’s aggressive efforts to stop governments from putting in place smoke-free laws.

“For the first time in history, we have the tools in hand to prevent a pandemic. Recent data suggests that, with current trends, more than half of the region of Africa will double its tobacco consumption within 12 years. Smoke-free public places are one example of a low-cost and extremely effective intervention that must be implemented now to protect health.” said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

To back up its claim, the report observed that Kenya and Niger had enacted national smoke-free policies within the last year, and South Africa, which had been smoke-free since March 2007, still played a major role on the continent.

The South Africa’s inspiring role, the report added, was an indication that smoke-free laws could work on the continent.

“In a first for the region, Mauritius recently passed a law that is close to meeting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control standards, ranking among the strongest anti-smoking measures in the world,” the report stated.

But it said implementation remained a challenge in many places such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda, adding that “barriers include identifying resources for implementation, and tobacco industry opposition to smoke-free laws.”

For instance, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaj, regretted that since anti-smoking law was passed in 1990, Nigerian law enforcement agencies were yet to arrest and prosecute any violator.

He said, “I am aware that in this country, the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida passed the anti-smoking law in 1990. By this law, smoking was banned in public places. I am aware that the law is still in force but no arrest has been made. Police have access to public places where people smoke but how many have they arrested?”

Agbaje, who spoke on the phone with our correspondent, advised the government to have the will, resources and determination to enforce this law in the interest of the majority who were not smokers.

However, the Programme Manager, Enviromental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Mr. Bode Oluwafemi, faulted the report and disagreed with Agbaje.

He said the report was a “fallacy”, adding that ban of smoking in public places was still in force in Nigeria. He said the law specified that smoking should not be carried out indoors.

Oluwafemi described anti-smoking law as “citizen law meant to teach attitude.” He said if people for instance, smoke within a court premises, they had not violated the law as such places were not indoors.

“There is a lot of misconception about this law. The law says you cannot smoke indoors. If you go to government buildings, schools, restaurants, hospitals, do people smoke there? The answer is no. Enforcing the law does not mean people should be jailed. The law is self-enforcing and it is meant to teach attitudes,” he said.

In spite of this sharp division, the report exposed tobacco industry’s tactics aimed at holding back legislation and convincing African governments that tobacco was important to economic activity, that raising taxes on cigarettes and implementing smoke-free laws would result in revenue and job losses.

The report estimated that in 2010, smoking would kill six million people worldwide, 72 per cent of them would come from low and middle-income countries.

It added that if the current trends were not abated, tobacco would claim the lives of seven million people a year by 2020 and more than eight million people annually by 2030.

The report, which was launched at a media summit hosted by the American Cancer Society on November 12, 2009, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, observed that some one billion people in 45 countries were now protected from health hazards of secondhand tobacco smoke at work and in public places.

“Despite this progress, more than 85 per cent of the world’s people are without such protection,” it warned.

Countries that have enacted strong, nationwide smoke-free laws include: Bermuda, Bhutan, Colombia, Djibouti, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. Most Canadian provinces/territories and Australian states/territories have also enacted such laws.

The National Secretary-General, Nigerian Medical Association Dr. Ken Okoro, said secondhand smoking is better known as perceive smoking. He said percesive smoking was when non a smoker inhale the smoke puffed out by a smoker.

Okoro in a telephone interview confirmed that perceive smoker could be at higher risk compare to a smoker because perceive smoker had no control over the quantity of smoke he or she inhales.

He said, “Sometimes a perceive smoker is sometimes more expose to danger than actual smoker. A smoker inhales the smoke and puff out some. So, he can determine the level of smoke he inhales. Whereas, a perceive smoker innocently inhales as much smoke quantity as possible and cannot puff out any smoke.

“This presupposes that a secondhand smoker can have lung cancer, small blood vessel or cardiovascular disease.”