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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Smoke-free public places: Taking a cue from Spain

SIR: A New Year ushers in good tidings and new beginnings. For Spaniards, it was the beginning of a new era, as their government was ready to start the year on a “clean bill of health” and taking their health as top priority. On January 2, 2011, the Spanish government placed a complete ban on smoking in public places. These include bars, restaurants, casinos, workplaces, other enclosed public places and even outdoor areas such as playgrounds, hospital yards etc. Non-compliance with this ban attracts a fine of $40 and as high as $100,000 if caught three times.

Spain is not the first country to take the initiative of enacting a smoking ban to protect her citizens from the harmful effect of tobacco. Several other countries have done the same in the past, these include the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, France, Italy,  Australia, Finland, New Zealand, most states of the USA, Egypt, Uganda, to mention a few.

Safeguarding the health of the citizens is the responsibility of any people-oriented government. The ban of smoking in public places is one of the proven ways of controlling tobacco consumption and reducing tobacco-related diseases and deaths.

Over 167 countries are signatories to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is a treaty with several articles aimed at achieving global tobacco control. Nigeria who ratified the FCTC guidelines in 2004 is presently yet to pass the tobacco control bill and also lacks a comprehensive tobacco control structure.

Smoke-free environment helps to de-normalise tobacco smoking, protects non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and helps current smokers to consider quitting. Consequently, individuals, government and insurance companies would spend less income treating tobacco-related diseases. The products of the tobacco industry are generally known and even self-acclaimed to be addictive and injurious to one’s health, causing several health conditions. In simple terms, the tobacco industry is a threat to the health sector of any country. Therefore, a comprehensive tobacco control structure should be put in place to control tobacco consumption in Nigeria.

Arguments such as unemployment that could result from the enactment of smoke-free public places legislation are largely baseless. This is because it’s been widely reported that enforcement of this ban in other countries has shown no negative economic impact and in fact, some economic gains were noted in the long term. Conversely, such countries have experienced a significant drop in the smoking population and an evidence-based improvement in the health of the citizens.

As a nation, our true asset is our health and this should be guarded jealously. Let’s prevail on the National Assembly to pass the Nigeria National Tobacco Control Bill before the expiration of this current dispensation.  It’s a new year and we could take a cue from Spain!