Joseph Inokotong, Abuja
Residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, have continued to obey in the breach the law prohibiting smoking in public places, almost four years after its enactment.
Disobedience to the law has been attributed to a number of factors, such as enforcement by the police. The most critical being absence of regulations for its implementation.
In Abuja, people smoke freely in the many recreation parks that dot the FCT. Children parks are not left out as smokers, some of them, parents who take their children there indulge in cigarette smoking unmolested.
At the Millennium Park in the City Centre, young adults are all over relaxing on their mats, chatting heartily while puffing away their cigarette. A few meters away, young children run, dance and play with their parents in a feat of merriment, oblivious of the danger posed to their health by those smoking in the vicinity.
Many residents of the FCT do not seem to know that it is an offence to smoke in public places quite a number of people were observed smoking while drinking in the midst of non-smokers.
At one of the gardens, a smoker in his mid-40s who identified himself as Lawrence said he has been smoking for years while drinking with his non-smoker friends, and was not aware of the law prohibiting him from smoking. He disclosed that in all the years he has been smoking in various spots in Abuja, he has never been either accosted or reprimanded by anyone for smoking, therefore sees nothing wrong in his act.
A bar manager (name withheld) at one of the gardens visited told Daily Sun that asking his customers not to smoke may drive them away. Smoking in the FCT is not limited to parks and other relaxation centres, some do indulge in the act at the airport and in the open markets without being either molested or arrested by the police.
When contacted to ascertain the number of cigarette smokers arrested and prosecuted in Abuja, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Anjuguri Manzah, said pointedly that he had nothing to say on the matter. On further probe, he reacted by directing this reporter to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), even when he was reminded that it is the statutory duty of the police to enforce the law prohibiting smoking in public places.
The National Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan; and no visible action has been taken since then to enforce the law.
Inaction by relevant authorities to enforce the law has cost Nigeria millions in terms of health risk and financial implications.
Former Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, had said Nigerians consume 20 billion sticks of cigarettes annually while 4.5 million adults use tobacco products, and about 82 per cent of people who visit bars and nightclubs are exposed to second-hand smoking.
He said in 2015, the country’s projected accumulated loss to tobacco was put at $7.6 billion: “It is estimated that Nigeria losses $800 million annually to stroke, heart disease and diabetes.”
He pointed out that for every $1 gained from tobacco business, about $3 is expended on healthcare cost. He stressed that the tobacco industry makes huge profit without taking responsibility for the harm they do to members of the public health.
Adewole said the absence of regulations for the enforcement of the Nigeria’s Tobacco Control Act is the most critical obstacle affecting the implementation of the law: “The ministry is working on the implementation and other loopholes along the way and would be tackled.” He informed that implementation of the tobacco control Act was slow because the draft regulations needed the National Assembly approval.
The regulations listed by the former minister to be implemented included: “Prohibition of the sale of tobacco products to and by anyone below age 18.
“Ban of sale of cigarettes in single sticks; cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20 sticks only. Smokeless tobacco shall be sold in a minimum of a pack of 30 grammes.
“Ban of sale or offer for sale or distribution of tobacco or tobacco products through mail, internet, or other online devices.
“Prohibition of interference of tobacco industry in public health and related issues. Prohibition of smoking in anywhere on the premises of a child care facility, educational facility, and healthcare facility. Other prohibited for smoking include playgrounds, amusement parks, plazas, public parks, stadia, public transport, restaurants’ bar, and other public gathering spaces.
“Prosecution of owner or manager of any of the places listed above who permits, encourages or fails to stop smoking in the above listed places. Prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of any kind, and compliance with specified standards for content.
“It is imperative for the regulations to return to the National Assembly for approval before they can be fully implemented. I have written to the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Nigeria Police over the enforcement of the National Tobacco Control Act.”