Feature Article of Saturday, 19 December 2009
Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure
Since James Bonsack invented the first cigarette rolling machine in 1881 global cigarette consumption has been rising steadily. There has also been a rise in the devastating effects of smoking. According to the third edition of Tobacco Atlas, all forms of tobacco are addictive and lethal. Scientific evidence also confirms that smokers face a very high risk of death from many cancers, respiratory diseases, stroke and many other fatal infections. Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals in the form of particles and gases. Out of this number, about sixty of such chemicals cause or are suspected to cause cancer. According to researchers, if the current smoking trend continues, six million people worldwide will be dying from tobacco related diseases annually by the year 2010. This means that China will lead the death chart. About 350 million of China’s population smoke. For every three cigarettes lit worldwide, one is smoked in China. Almost 25% of the Chinese smoke. When you visit construction sites, they smoke a puff out clouds of smoke on the miserable young men seeking their daily bread. The end effect is lungs infections which their meager earnings cannot treat.
What are we doing about it?
Many countries around the world have enacted legislations to curb deaths resulting from smoking but many developing countries, especially those in Africa, are yet to take any meaningful measures to protect their citizens against this deadly trend. A report published by the Global Smoke-Free Partnership and launched in Tanzania last month states that nearly 90% of Africans do not have any protection against second-hand smoking, a phenomenon many countries in the world are vigorously fighting. Second-hand smoking or passive smoking simply means inhaling other people's tobacco smoke.
Research has shown that in countries where there are enforceable ban on smoking in public places, cancers and other heart infections have significantly reduced. A research led by Dr James Lightwood of the University of California found that heart attack rates across Europe and North America start dropped by 36% three years after the implementation of anti-smoking laws. Another research also conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that heart attack rates in that country decreased by 10% a year after the ban on smoking in public places in 2007. Unfortunately in Ghana, all manner of persons, including children, are exposed to tobacco smoke because there are no laws prohibiting people from smoking anywhere they choose.
People smoke in drinking spots, restaurants, hotels, lorry stations, in vehicles and sometimes at work places.
In fact smokers think it is their constitutional right to smoke and where they choose to do that is no one’s business provided the substance is not illegal. An attempt to challenge such smokers will either result in verbal assaults or a nasty and violent confrontation, in which the smoker usually becomes the victor.
This therefore calls for a national ban on smoking in public smoking. If this is done, it will not only reduce the number of tobacco related infections on second-hand smokers but it will drastically reduce the amount of cigarette consumed in the country. Research has proven wrong the assertion that the demand of tobacco is inelastic and no matter the price increase demand will remain the same. A study by the American Cancer Society researcher, Evan Blecher, indicates that if the price of cigarette is doubled by tax increment, it can reduce the consumption of the product by 60%. South Africa has been able to cut cigarette consumption by one-third since it started vigorous cigarette tax increment since 1993.
The tourism industries in countries where anti-public smoking laws have been passed have not suffered any significant setback so the fear of loss of revenues due to the ban on public smoking is out of the question.
Evidence on the benefits of prohibiting public smoking abounds and what is left now is the political will to introduce the ban in Ghana. In African countries like Kenya, Zambia and South Africa where the ban is in place, ant-public smoking laws have had to face very stiff opposition from the tobacco industry. But where there is a will there has always been a way.
Other countries are doing it. According to a BBC report, “Italy's anti-smoking laws are some of the toughest in Europe.
Businesses face a fine of up to 2,000 euros (£1,390) if they allow customers to smoke, while the smokers themselves could be slapped with a 275-euro fine for repeat offences.” Why do we then allow foreigners and local smokers alike to pollute our public places with clouds of smoke? Anytime I get to Yendi and Tamale lorry stations, I feel like throwing up. Complain and you’ll be thought a good lesson.
The Northern Sector Command of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Services on Saturday destroyed 330,000 cartons of seized cigarettes. The cigarettes were destroyed because they were either smuggled goods or did not have the health warning: "Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.” For now, smokers do not seem to care about the Ministry of Health warning and will go ahead to smoke. It is their lives, their rights and their health. The question now is what about those who are forced to inhale cigarette smoke? What option do they have?
The ban on smoking at public places is long overdue and the government must choose between the health of the people and the so-called economic revenue from the tobacco industry. And if there is the need to act, then the time is now.
Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [email@example.com]
The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra. You can read more of his works on www.maxighana.com