Calls for enforcement of law banning public smoking intensify
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
The debate on the deadly effects of smoking on human health has over the years gained momentum.
Already, there is more than enough scientific evidence to pursue the line being taken by countries that have been keen on putting a stop to the phenomenon. According to reports, there are approximately over 4000 chemicals in cigarettes, hundreds of which are said to be toxic. The ingredients in cigarettes affect everything from the internal functioning of organs to the efficiency of the body's immune system. Their effects are destructive and widespread.
In recent years, the National Assembly enacted the anti-tobacco law, prohibiting smoking in public places. This law is yet to be put into force. The Gambia, however, was among the first countries to ratify the convention on tobacco control. The Daily Observer sounded the views of key people in the Global Anti-tobacco Campaign.
Sambujang Conteh is the director of RAID The Gambia. His organization is one of four forming the NGO-CSO anti-tobacco alliance in The Gambia. As the chairperson of that coalition, he strongly believes that the convention for prohibiting public smoking should be put into force. He emphasised that public smoking leads to many health implications which do not leave out non-smokers. The constitution, he said, gives ninety days for the act to be enforced. Thus, he wondered why nothing has yet been done.
He was however optimistic that come what may, the law will come into force and health related problems will be reduced.This, he said, can contribute significantly to the cutting down of pressure on the country's budget, in terms of the health sector. To this end, he observed that the Department of State for Health, being the custodian of the anti-tobacco convention, is obliged to put in place "bold strategies" to make it workable. Conteh concluded by reminding smokers of the penalties associated with infringement of the legislation whenever it comes into force - "a maximum penalty of D500 or three months jail term awaits defaulters," he warned.
Politicians play quite a crucial role in the success of this global campaign, a fact well noted in the anti-tobacco circles. The governor of the Western Region, Lamin Sanneh, is himself a fervent supporter of the course.
The convention, he said, should be something that everybody adheres to. "We must understand that the law is the law and nobody is above it," he stressed. Like the RAID director, the governor expressed hope that if the convention should come into force, it will drastically cut down on the annual budget on health, thereby enabling the government to save more money, which could be put into other important aspects of development. He observed that the coming into force of the convention will also ease the daily conflicts between smokers and non-smokers.
But if the convention is to have its intended impact, the general population have to be sensitised about the dangers associated with smoking. This was a challenge Governor Sanneh threw to all stakeholders, especially those in the media. He wondered why, despite the fact that it is written on some cigarette packets that smoking "kills", people continue to put their lives in danger.
He concluded with a vow that his region will uphold the law once the ban comes into force. Like RAID and its partner organizations, The Association of Non-governmental Organization (TANGO) is in the middle of the struggle. Its director is Ousman Yabo. He said that "smoking is naturally risky to one's health".
He also shared the belief that the rationale for the prohibition of public smoking can only be understood by the people if they are well sensitised on dangers related to smoking. "Like any other regulation," he stressed, "people must be seen to adhere to the anti-tobacco convention." Yabo put both the Department of State for Health and the World Health Organisation to task, requesting that they come up with compelling information regarding the effect of tobacco usage if the campaign is to be effective.