Commotion erupts in a commuter omnibus plying the city-Marlborough route as passengers exchange harsh words with the driver who is smoking out the window. The driver is adamant that his smoke is going outside, but passengers remain agitated.
It soon becomes clear that the smoke is really causing discomfort when some school children in the kombi can be heard coughing which incenses the passengers even more.
As the journey proceeds, the commuter omnibus driver points out other people and pedestrians smoking along the pavements of the CBD.
“Can’t you see all these people smoking? If you cannot bear it just get out and find another kombi driven by a pastor or Jesus himself then!” shouted the driver as the debate raged on.
This story is but one example of the problem of public smoking in Harare made worse by a lack of enforcement of the laws prohibiting the exposure of members of the public to second-hand smoke. Instead, smoking in public is common on the streets of Harare affecting non-smoking people who are forced to passively smoke against their will.
With tobacco responsible for nearly six million deaths per annum (according to the Centre for Disease Control), there is every reason for us to be worried and also a need for the government to ensure that public smoking is banned to protect non-smokers from its negative effects.
Section 81 of the Forests Act prohibits public smoking in places where there is a public notice. Statutory Instrument 264 of 2002 of the Public Health Act on Tobacco Control also prohibits public smoking in areas such as passenger aircraft, passenger trains, educational or health care facilities, theatres, cinemas, museums, youth centres, and libraries among other places.
The Act gives authority to medical officers, environmental health officers, local authorities and the police to apprehend those in breach of its provisions. Harare News spoke to several Harare residents who expressed unanimous disapproval for public smoking.
Ernest Nyamayaro of Kuwadzana said public smoking was a danger to both the smoker and others. “When somebody smokes next to you, you are bound to inhale the smoke as much as that person and that is not right because I cannot be forced to smoke against my will,” he said.
Alita Ndhlovu from Mt Pleasant agrees and called on government to put in place measures that discourage people from smoking.
“In some countries, they have smoking zones where people can buy and smoke cigarettes. Our municipal authorities should also identify places where people can smoke not this thing of people smoking everywhere,” said Ndhlovu.
Public health expert Dr Suzan Mathambo agreed it was a health hazard as passive smoking is linked to cancer of the larynx and brain tumours in children.
“Secondary smoke which is released into the air by a smoker is harmful to non-smokers because it has a higher concentration of harmful chemical toxins. It is necessary for the police to arrest and charge those found guilty for the good of the public,” said Mathambo.
Harare City Health Director, Dr Prosper Chonzi explained that Zimbabwe is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s tobacco control conventions which prohibit public smoking.
“Though we do not have enforcing mechanisms as of now, as we go around city public places such as beer halls, we inspect and confiscate things like ash trays,” said Chonzi.
Chonzi added that those who refuse to comply with the bylaws will have their operating licenses either revoked or not renewed.
“We encourage public institutions to introduce smoking zones where those who want to smoke can go,” added Chonzi.
Asked if citizens had any power to protect themselves from public smoking, Chonzi said existing law equips them with the power to instruct whoever is smoking in public to do it in designated places or in their homes.
According to the Public Health Act, smoking in public attracts a fine of $500 or a custodial sentence not exceeding six months or both fine and imprisonment. The Act also makes it mandatory for public institutions to put in place signs that prohibit smoking in undesignated places.