(By Yusuff Moshood)
In July 2003, I interviewed Prof. Hussein Akande Abdulkareem, a biochemist and head of the department of Medical Biochemistry, Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), on tackling tobacco-related health problems.
One of the questions I asked him was on the claim that non-smokers are more at risk of second-hand smoke than smokers who inhale first-hand smoke. He was unequivocal in his response: A person who smokes is usually able to have complete combustion of what he is consuming but what he gives out cannot be said to have undergone complete combustion. The smoke in the smoker’s mouth has light and energy but the one he passes on to people around him is more dangerous.”
He stressed further that even though there were many things that could cause bad health in human beings, tobacco smoking was the worst because it was not just a danger to the smoker but even more dangerous to the people around him. “For instance,” he said, ”if a pregnant woman is a smoker, the smoking will affect not only her, but her husband, everybody around her and even the child in her womb. In the same vein, if it is the husband who smokes, the smoking will not affect only him but all around him. What it means is that smoking is a very dangerous issue.”
I had always felt uncomfortable around smokers and disliked cigarette smoke, but since that interview with the foremost scientist and advocate of tobacco prohibition, I have always been more careful to put some distance between myself and anybody who smokes. This was why I was really pleased when it was recently announced that the Lagos State Government had concluded plans to start the full enforcement of the ban on cigarette smoking in public places from August
According to the report, places where smoking will be banned include, public libraries, museums, public toilets, offices, hospitals, children schools, cinemas, and all public transport systems.
Mr Rasheed Adebola Shabi, general manager, Lagos State Environment Protection Agency (LASEPA), the agency mandated to enforce the ban, who made the disclosure while speaking with journalists in Lagos recently, however added that government was not outlawing smoking in the state. He said the move was merely intended to regulate it in certain places, just as it was done in the case of commercial motorcycles.
I am in full support of this plan and I commend the Lagos State government for this initiative because even the World Health Organisation (WHO) had years back, endorsed and called for stiffer measures against cigarette manufacturing, sale, advertisement and use.
Experts have confirmed that tobacco smoke has carcinogens, chemicals that cause cancer in human beings. Tobacco smoke is also said to be a major cause of heart diseases because cigarette smoke increases the rate of heartbeat and blood pressure.
Indeed, quite a number of diseases have been linked to cigarette smoke, and the failure of government and other stakeholders to find ways to stem tobacco-related health problems is perhaps one of the reasons we now have many people coming down with and dying of preventable cardiovascular diseases.
More Nigerians are being diagnosed of all sorts of cancer. This is not just a problem of smokers and non-smokers or their family members; it is a huge burden on the health system and a big challenge facing the whole country. The media is awash these days with appeals for financial assistance on behalf of patients requiring major medical operations for cardiovascular diseases running into millions of naira. While these efforts are commendable, it is my view that more proactive steps to encourage campaigns on disease prevention are needed in this country
There is no denying that while the mandatory warning accompanying cigarette adverts has changed from ‘cigarette smoking is dangerous to health’ to ‘smokers are liable to die young’, it has not had the desired restraining effect on those hell-bent on smoking. It is thus more imperative to protect non-smokers exposed to cigarette smoke from smokers. Nobody should be constrained to inhale cigarette smoke from the environment.
While I urge the federal government as well as other states in the country to follow the footsteps of Lagos State government by outlawing the smoking in public places to protect Nigerians from tobacco smoke and its attendant negative health effects, I equally urge the Lagos State government to conscientiously enforce this ban.
This ban is arguably more important than that placed on commercial motorcycle operations in the state. Hardly can one find a motor park in Lagos where the operators are not smoking – not just cigarette but all sorts of hazardous substances.
It is also common to see people smoking in buses and other public places. This should stop. I am sure the Lagos State government can enforce the ban as the government has, on some other occasions, shown its capacity to get things done irrespective of whose ox is gored.
Nigerians cannot continue to die needlessly or fall sick from various diseases that are preventable. All Lagosians and, indeed, all Nigerians should support this initiative to prohibit smoking in public. This is one initiative that can help safeguard public health.