Friday, May 30, 2008

Smoking in public places

Smoking in public places
By Editor
Friday May 30, 2008 [04:00]

There is no doubt about the damage that smoking does. And we also think that a lot of people who are not smokers would actually prefer to be in an environment where there is no smoking taking place. There is abundant evidence that breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke carries serious health risks, especially for children or those who are chronically exposed, such as at the workplace.

We therefore urge all Zambians to support last month’s Statutory Instrument that was initiated by local government minister, Sylvia Masebo, to ban smoking in public places because it would safeguard the public and encourage more smokers to quit.
Only smoke-free buildings and public places truly protect non-smokers from the hazards of breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke.

Non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke – involuntary smoking – that puts people at increased risk of death from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

Moreover, there is no risk-free level of exposure to someone else’s drifting smoke. Even the issue of the rights of the smoker raised by Zambia Medical Association president Dr Swebby Macha needs to be treated with a lot of care because designated places for smoking still enable smoke to escape from there into the lungs of non-smokers. And what rights do smokers really have when it comes to smoking in public places? Rights are exercisable only up to a point where your acts do not affect your neighbour. Immediately your smoke affects other people, you cannot claim to have a right to smoking.

We should also be especially concerned about young children who can’t escape their parents’ addiction in search of cleaner air. We should think about the plight of children in their smoking parents’ homes where the public smoking ban does not reach. Those children are at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, lung infections such as pneumonia, ear infections and more severe asthma.

Exposure to second-hand smoke remains an alarming public health hazard and Masebo should be commended for attempting to address it, to put an end to it.

Masebo deserves credit for realising that non-smokers need protection through the restriction of smoking in public places. Smokers should also not be allowed to puff around children even in their own homes. Children need protection everywhere.

We therefore urge all Zambians to support this ban because without their support, it would be impossible for it to be effective. And as Zambia Consumer Association executive secretary Muyunda Ililonga has warned, this Statutory Instrument may be as ineffective as many similar others before it that attempted to deal with other nuisances like urinating, spitting, littering and so on and so forth in public places. These are very difficult to enforce.

It is not possible to have police officers going round enforcing anti-smoking bans. It will be expensive to undertake such patrols. And how many policemen do we have anyway?

This being the case, this ban will only be effective if the public support it and enforce it on behalf of the state and indeed on their own behalf. The government has done its part. What remains is for us the citizens of this country to do our part.

There is no longer a scientific controversy that second-hand smoke is a killer. And therefore, there is no reason for us to take half measures to restrict smoking. We should go all the way and stop this nuisance that is killing our people directly and indirectly.

Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air and ventilation systems don’t eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke. What is needed are comprehensive smoking bans. Public smoking restrictions not only reduce second-hand smoke but discourage active smoking in the nation.

Smoking is a serious health hazard that should not be played around with. If one is in doubt, we advise them to go and talk to our good friend Mr Michael Sata, who for a number of years, we had problems restraining from smoking in our offices whenever he visited us. It was not easy to grab cigarettes from the lips of a senior citizen and prominent politician like Mr Sata.

Second-hand smoke can act on the arteries so quickly that even brief exposure to someone else’s smoke can endanger people who are at high risk of heart disease. And for this reason, we advise those who smoke never to smoke around a sick relative.

Living with a smoker increases a non-smoker’s risk of lung cancer and heart disease by a very high factor – some say even up to 30 per cent.
There isn’t proof that second-hand smoke causes breast cancer, but the evidence is suggestive.

We should therefore treat direct smoking and second-hand smoke as a toxic air pollutant.

And for these reasons, it is easy to understand why Masebo, when announcing the banning of smoking in public places said, “…prohibition of smoking in public places has had to be given special attention due to its hazardous nature to non-smokers who are forced to be passive smokers and this affects their health although they do not smoke.”

This Statutory Instrument is not an end in itself – it is just a means. If we support it and give it effect, it will help us protect ourselves from all these dangers. It may also enable us to discourage others from committing suicide through smoking. Let us give it spirited support.

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