Lagos anti-smoking law is ideal but unrealistic

by Demola Rewaju
Many smokers would rather pay a N500 bribe than have their time wasted. Would it not be a reflection of reality if the punishment was an immediate fine of N500 for which a receipt would be issued on the spot? Would many smokers not insist on collecting the receipt after paying N500 for smoking a N10 stick of Benson & Hedges, White London or Rothmans?
On Monday, the Lagos state governor signed into law a bill prohibiting smoking in public places such as libraries, museum, public toilets, schools, hospital, day-care centres, public transportation, restaurants and other places such as in the presence of a minor. This law is commendable as it represents a bold attempt to curb tobacco and nicotine addiction – a problem that many people freely admit to and a habit that many freely indulge in. Unfortunately and as is often the case with many laws especially in Lagos state, the punishment for the ‘crime’ is highly prohibitive and disproportionate to the offence itself.
The Lagos state laws passed so far are laudable in some instances and downright ignorant in others and they include the child’s right law, the building control law, tenancy law, law against illegal trading at unauthorised places and the Lagos traffic law but we are yet to see them being enforced. Children still trade on the streets, buildings are allowed to reach a storey height before being pulled down, street trading still goes on and I am yet to hear of anyone arrested for eating, drinking or smoking while driving.
To be candid, this anti-smoking law is laudable as exposure to second-hand smoke in children and infants has serious effects. Exposed infants have reduced lung capacity, asthma, and detrimental lower respiratory tract infections. Babies born by mothers exposed to second-hand smoke also tend to have low birth weight and childhood tooth decay is linked with parental smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke has a variety of chemical agents. These chemicals when breathed in react with the lungs causing serious chronic cardiovascular toxicity. Some report also indicates that second-hand smoke also causes acute coronary diseases.
Some provisions of the law include that owners of public places must place signs with the inscription; ‘No Smoking’ or symbols as part of enlightenment for smokers and would-be violators of the law For non-compliance by owners of public places, the law states that such offenders shall be fined N100,000 or six months imprisonment or other non custodial punishment that the judge may deem fit. In public places, the owners are mandated by the law to create areas where people can smoke but that it should not be close to the vicinity.
The law further states that any person who smokes in the presence of a child commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N15,000 or one month imprisonment term. Where the offence of refusal to place the sign or symbol is committed by a corporate body, the director, manager, company secretary or any person concerned in the management of the affairs of the corporate body would be liable. In this case, he would be fined the sum of N250,000 upon conviction.
And this is where corruption starts: fines of N10,000, 15,000, N50,000, N100,000 and N250,000 are not realistic compared to the crime and if the state government is actually interested in implementing this law, the amount to be paid by offenders and the jail time should be far lower than what the law provides for. I can bet my bottom naira that nobody will ever pay these fines as they would prefer to settle with the officer rather than go to court.
It reminds me of a time few years ago when I had to attend a programme of some aburos at the National Theatre in Iganmu but was running very late and I was very pressed to ease myself of urine. As soon as I alighted from the cab that took me, I made towards the nearby gutter, carefully shielded my privates and let out a relieved stream of pee. I soon noticed peculiar movement around me and turning to look, I discovered it was a guy with a camera phone hopping from one leg to the other in a bid to snap a picture of my phallus emitting liquid. I calmly finished my business, packed myself well and as a Lagos boy I immediately started negotiating as we walked towards the KAI van where other uniformed men were standing. In a distance of about 200m – from the front of national theatre towards under the bridge at Costain, I and my photographer had bargained on N500 which I gave him and he promptly squeezed into his pocket, asking me to just play along since his superiors had already seen him ‘arresting’ me.
When we got to them, he claimed I was actually his friend from many years back and asked them to let me go and they did immediately.
Many smokers would rather pay a N500 bribe than have their time wasted. Would it not be a reflection of reality if the punishment was an immediate fine of N500 for which a receipt would be issued on the spot? Would many smokers not insist on collecting the receipt after paying N500 for smoking a N10 stick of Benson & Hedges, White London or Rothmans?
Furthermore, is a day of community service not more realistic than a jail time of 3 months for smoking in public? Hence, much as the law is commendable, it seems only in an attempt to justify the sittings of the House of Assembly. Law reforms will have to be a part of the agenda of the next Lagos state government.
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