It is peak hour in Harare CBD. The streets are packed with hordes of people coming from work. A man lights a cigarette and joins the crowd of city dwellers heading home, a thin plume of smoke escaping from his cigarette. He walks on, puffing out another cloud of smoke as he elbows his way into the crowd before disappearing into the darkness. Those beside him look away; some block their noses trying not to breathe in the smell of smoke from his cigarette.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) tobacco is one of the leading preventable causes of death. It is estimated that if not curbed its use will result in the death of more than five million people in the world before the year 2030. Cigarette smoking in public is often done without any consideration for other members of the public who end up inhaling more than 4,000 toxins of which 43 are known to cause cancer. This process is known as second hand smoking. Some of these chemical composites are tar and nicotine which cause many lung related ailments and cancers of the lungs, larynx, throat, and kidneys as well as an assortment of other respiratory complications. It is also linked to leukaemia, high risk of strokes, heart disease and impotence. The WHO estimates that it accounts for 22% of cancer related deaths the world over.
A survey carried out by the Ministry Of Health and Child Welfare revealed that in 2008 alone 1,500 deaths in Zimbabwe were linked to smoking related ailments. To that end the WHO, through their Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, has since launched a campaign prohibiting the advertising or promotion of cigarettes and stopped sponsorship by tobacco companies. In Zimbabwe’s Public Health Act chapter 15:09 statutory instrument 246 of 2002 on tobacco control, it is stipulated that smoking in public place is a criminal offence. However, the availability of cheap cigarettes on the local market means that people smoke almost anywhere in Harare except for private hotels, restaurants and bars and public transport. Many public places like streets do not have no-smoking zones and often one notices people smoking at petrol stations. In countries like Malawi and Zambia there are strictly enforced laws to prohibit public smoking but in Zimbabwe people flaunt the law with impunity.
Harare News recently carried out a survey on all our online platforms to find out what the citizens of Harare think. Overall, 82% of respondents say public smoking should be banned while 14% think smokers should smoke wherever they want, whenever they want. The remaining 4% think that some further limitations are needed, but nothing too draconian.
@Prayersoul was among the many people who tweeted: “YES!!” in response to our twitter poll asking if smoking should be banned. Lucy Broderick was even more enthusiastic in her response on Facebook saying, “Absolutely! Ban it – I don’t like having to breathe in second hand smoke!”
Writing on Twitter, @LindelweNcube says that a ban wouldn’t be a good idea: “I think the level of pollution at the moment is not that bad. Besides they [the police] have many things to worry about, say kombis.” On Facebook, Terry Atwell seemed to agree with him as part of his post read: “As an ex-smoker of 45 years I really don’t think it’s a good idea. It should be a personal decision to smoke or not in public.”
Janette Anne Morton Clark had a suggestion that could please everyone: “It would be great to have designated smoking areas like they do in Europe”, she posted, to which Hanna Murphy, a Zimbabwean in the UK responded: “We all whinged about the smoking ban here…but now we don’t know how we coped without it. Smokers still smoke…and shared spaces feel and smell a whole lot better”.
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