Thou Shall Not Smoke – The Lagos State Anti-Smoking Law
Back in February, when Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola announced that a bill prohibiting smoking in public places had been passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly, the information was greeted with passive nods of assent. The law was not yet in the public domain but some bars/public places had already proceeded to completely outlaw smoking in their premises. However, a more in depth view of the law shows a more stringent side of things that might get concerned smokers off their chairs.
I have always been an advocate for freedom of expression within the acceptable limits of sanity, so while my views on smoking in public places are firmly on the seat of mild/limited control, my review of the law certainly sent me to the wild on a bit of research.
In a nutshell, the new anti-smoking law technically (in a not so rude manner) says that you can only smoke in your room, in your house, with the windows closed, far from any public activity. Smoking is not a prohibited act that raises concern like legalized gun possession or marijuana; smoking is a pastime that has existed even before the invention of the very word. While gloom and doom has been professed upon smokers, with some commercials unable to distinguish between gory horror and a simple message, the fact remains that it is still a very popular pastime and reports show that it reduces stress and increases positive cerebral activity amongst many people. Now…now…don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro-smoking, but if millions of people enjoy it and works for them and it’s not illegal, then they have earned a right to enjoy this pastime.
The first thing that struck me while reviewing the law is that…smoking or smoke includes pipes, cigars, cigarettes (obviously) and any other lit object/substance in a form in which it can be smoked. The next part that hit me, is the duties imposed on the owners of public premises to install smoke detectors, smoking signs, and also ensure that smokers are not smoking within 10 meters of such signs. Ok, fair enough, you can step away from these areas with your stick and smoke, a nice little acceptable distance from the sign. Then, I take a look at the list of prohibited places and almost choke on my morning coffee. It starts by saying ‘all non-smoking areas’, then proceeds to listing restaurants, halls, any place designated for recreational purpose i.e. parks, shopping centers, premises being used or partly used as places of work, any structure enclosed or substantially enclosed and is open to the public…oh… and did I mention hotels too? Basically – everywhere is off limits.
The mild insanity the average smoker in Lagos will feel at the moment is completely understandable, especially in a situation where all areas but his room – which must not be ostensibly located to a public place – is off limits. The irritation felt is apparent and some people would feel that this is a rather intrusive breach on their freedom of expression. While that is rather questionable on its own, the fact that this new law theoretically shuts down all known public smoking avenues is very blatant.
The strictness of the new law can certainly not be overlooked and in August when it is implemented, the angst that will be displayed by concerned smokers will be one that the Government will have to deal with it…or not.