Following rising threats smoking pose to smokers and non-smokers alike, the Lagos House of Assembly unanimously passed a private bill for a law to prohibit smoking in designated places and vehicles in the state. The bill, currently awaiting Governor Babatunde Fashola's assent, has indeed earned the support of most Lagos residents, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi

On January 21, the Deputy Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Taiwo Kolawole, banged the assembly's gavel on the table. It was however not before all the lawmakers in the chamber had unanimously chorused 'ayes' that evening. It was a thunderous 'ayes' for the passage of a bill for a law to prohibit smoking in public places across the state. Even though not less than two lawmakers in the assembly smoke, the bill eventually sailed through.

When it finally comes into force, it will be unlawful to smoke in the presence of a child. Beside that, it will become illegal to smoke in more than 18 places, which are listed in the schedule of the bill. Indeed, the essence of the bill, according to its sponsor, Hon. Olusegun Yishawu, is not really to prohibit smoking across the state. Rather, he argued, it was designed to protect residents who are non smokers from the lethal effects of second-hand smoke.

Contrary to what millions of Lagos residents may think, the bill is not just against the common people who are addicted to smoking. A good number of bigwigs in Lagos politics and corporate world also smokes, but mostly within the confines of luxury apartments, corporate offices and elite clubs. The bill does not spare any resident that smoke in public places, due to the debilitating effects of the injurious chemicals, which its sponsor said, are contained in tobacco.

At this instance, can the bill get the assent of Governor Babatunde Fashola? Now that the bill has been forwarded to the governor to append his signature, what happens in the coming weeks will determine the fate of the bill. Will Fashola withhold his assent? Will the lawmakers override the veto of the governor should that happen? In spite of conflicting interests it has generated, Yishawu argued that there "is no reason for the governor to withhold his assent," especially when its benefits millions of residents of the state.

Rationale for the Bill

Good reasons prevailed in the passage of the bill, according to Yishawu. Aside from psychological benefits, the lawmaker explained that smokers "are not deriving anything positive from the habit." However, he argued that the intent and purpose of the bill was not "to outlaw smoking in Lagos State. We are not saying smokers should stop smoking. We are only planning to regulate the manner they smoke."

The lawmaker cited the overriding need "to protect the entire community of non-smoking residents from the lethal puffed smoke of cigarettes" as the prime reason for initiating the bill. He said the effect of second-hand smoking "constitutes the major reason," due to what he described as health implications it had on passive smokers. On this note, he argued, smoking is injurious to both the smokers and non-smokers.

Yishawu, representing Lagos Island Constituency I, explained the scale of damage, which he said it, could cost human health. He added that cigarette "contains about 4,000 injurious chemicals," which according to him, had cost a good number of residents in the state and outside sound health, even their lives. He noted that researchers "have proved that smoking constitutes the root causes of some terminal ailments."

He, therefore, said smoking cigarettes "has been linked to different kinds of cancers." Therefore, the lawmaker explained that the need to promote public health forms the basis for the bill, which will become effective the moment the governor appends his signature. Yishawu said it was the onus of the state's legislative institution to enact law for the good governance and safety of the populace.

Inside the Bill

Compressed into 16 substantive sections, the bill states that no person shall smoke in the places designated and specified in its schedule. Such places include restaurants, hotels, cinemas, concert halls, amusement arcades, stadia, conference centres, public toilets, educational institution premises, public transportation vehicles, public halls, exhibition halls, call centres and premises used for religious and social purposes.

Under Section 2, the bill classified all public facilities listed in the schedule as no-smoking areas, which it said, shall be a duty of any person who "owns or is in charge of the management of the premises to ensure that approved signs or the international no-smoking symbol consisting of a pictorial representation of a burning cigarette enclosed in a red circle with a red star across it are conspicuously displayed..."

The bill, however, gave the Commissioner for the Environment powers to designate more places as 'no-smoking areas'. This simply suggests that the no-smoking areas are not limited to those listed under the schedule of the legislation. Consequently, Yishawu said, more public places which are not captured in the legislation can in the future be designated 'no-smoking areas,' though subject to the discretion of the environment commissioner.

But section 10(c) mandated the Managing Director in the Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency to prescribe standard and no-smoking signs or symbols in places or vehicles prohibited from smoking. The subsequent subsections advised any person, who desires to register a complaint under the law "to initiate enforcement with LASEPA and the provision of the legislation be given to all applicants for a business licence in the state."

Section 4 stipulated that it "shall be an offence to smoke in the presence of a child who is under the age of 18 years." Likewise, under section 5, the bill prohibits any resident of the state from smoking in the school business and public conveyances or any person who owns or drives school buses or vehicles meant for public conveyances "shall post in appropriate, clear, conspicuous and sufficient manner 'no-smoking' signs."

Aside, section 6 stipulates that it shall be an offence "to obstruct a duly authorised officer from entering and arresting any offender when carrying out his duties under the provisions of the law." Section 10 desinates the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) as the enforcement authority, though it noted that it could collaborate with the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement Unit).

Risk of Imprisonment

The bill makes provision for some penalties, which its sponsor said, every infraction will attract, specifically at the discretion of courts of competent jurisdiction. The bill spells out two categories of penalties for the residents who may breach its provisions the moment it effectively comes into force. Sections 7 and 8 provide further guide on the penalties that could be meted out to individual and corporate offenders.

Under section 7(b), the bill stipulates that any owner of a designated place, who contrary to the provisions of section 3, does not stop anybody smoking within his premise "commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine of N100, 000.00 or to imprisonment for a term of six months or both or non-custodial punishment," which the bill said, was at the discretion of the judge in competent court to determine.

But its authors provides stiffer penalties for corporate bodies, firms or associations provided that the provisions of the bill are breached in their premises. The bill states that where an offence "is committed in this instance, any director, manager, partner, company secretary or other similar officers shall be guilty of an offence and shall be, on conviction, liable to a fine of N250, 000.00 as though he had committed the offence himself."

As also stipulated under section 8, any person that smokes in the presence of a child shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N15, 000.00 or for imprisonment to a term of one month or both. But repeated violation of the law by any person in control of a public place, place of employment or means of public conveyance, which was enshrined in section 7(e), may result in the suspension or revocation of permit of the offender without an option of fine for this category of offenders.

But the legislation made provision for the establishment of Conservation and Ecology Account to be operated in any indigenous bank. It expects all fines awarded to those who might be convicted under the law or proceeds from all the penalties to be paid into the account. The bill has a non-retaliation clause, which it said, was designed to protect employees, applicants for employment or customers, who choose to exercise any right entrenched in the law, report or attempt to prosecute a violation of the law.

Public Reactions

Contrary to what millions of Lagos residents might think, the passage of the bill has already earned support of both smokers and passive smokers in the state. One resident, Mr. Reuben Kolawole said such legislation "is indeed good, at least in the interest of public health." He explained that it was necessary to protect those who are not smoking from the second-hand smoke, which he said, was poisonous to human health.

He said he was addicted to smoking for many years. He said good reasons compelled him to drop the habit, though it was not easy.
He explained that smoking often gave him immediate psychological relief then, which according to him, was nothing compared to the danger it posed to his health and negative public perception he suffered during the period. He said there was a perception in this part of the world that smokers were not responsible. But he said he had been healthier since he dropped the habit.

Another resident, Mr. Ego Benjamin, also described the legislation as appropriate for an ideal society. Benjamin, who still smokes, agreed that it was not good to smoke in public places, citing its lethal effects on passive smokers. He explained that the legislation "is indeed good because it will promote public health and protect those who are not smoking. Research has shown that smoke is poisonous to human health."

Benjamin's position underscores the cardinal rationale, which Yishawu said, was behind the need to outlaw smoking in such public places listed under the schedule of the legislation. But Benjamin doubts if the Lagos State Government will be able to enforce all the provisions of the legislation, citing negative impact, he said, it will have on public outlets across the state and equally on the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state.

He explained that there "are a lot of public outlets, where people go for relaxation in different parts of the state. Most of the outlets are places where people smoke and alcoholic products are sold. And the state government and local council authorities rake a lot of money into the confers. So, any attempt to enforce the law reduces patronage, apparently for fear of being reported, prosecuted and possibly imprisoned."

The resident also envisaged frustration, which he said, would be suffered by those operating parks, gardens, clubs, beer palours and different kind of public outlets in the nooks and crannies of the state. He said the enforcement of the legislation, if signed into law, would reduce personal income and by implication trim down what both state and local government "can earn in the coming years."

Ordinarily, however, Benjamin said the legislation was good for an ideal society, a reason its sponsor initiated it with a view to promoting public health in the state and protecting passive smokers from the lethal effects of smoking. On this note, Yishawu sought more public support from all residents of the state for robust enforcement of the legislation the moment it fully comes into force.