Smokers in public places beware!

Are you one of those that often smoke in public? Beware or else the law will soon catch up with you!

The Ministry of Health has issued a fresh warning against public smoking, saying it’s committed to ensuring the legislation that outlaws the habit is followed to the letter.

In a communiqué released yesterday, the ministry said it had noticed that most of the hotels, bars and restaurants in the country were not conforming to the law on protection of non-smokers from hazardous tobacco smoke.

Article 11 of the Law n 14bis of 08/04/2013 relating to the control of tobacco in Rwanda prohibits smoking in public places, including premises meant for work, the courtroom and surroundings, factories, cinema halls, theatres and video houses, health facilities, restaurants, hotels and bars, children’s homes or areas of residential houses which are used for childcare, schooling or tutoring.

The ministry urged hotels, bars and restaurant owners to put visible warning signs, of at least 50x50cm, informing smokers that the practice is strictly prohibited in public area.

In an interview with The New Times, yesterday, Dr Evariste Ntaganda, the Director of cardiovascular diseases in the Non-Communicable Diseases Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said that despite the fact that the law has been around for some time now, most people don’t observed it due to ignorance.

“They (people) are not informed. A survey was conducted and it was found out that even the responsible institutions are not aware of what they are supposed to be doing,” he said.

Institutions involved in tobacco regulation in the country include the Rwanda Revenue Authority (regulating taxation), Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (tobacco growing), Ministry of Justice (legal enforcement), Ministry of Health (coordination of in regulation), Ministry of Trade and Industry (tobacco trading), and the police for law enforcement, among others.

“We ask all players to do their part in regulation,” said Ntaganda.

He said that tobacco is related to health conditions, which do not only affect smokers, but passive smokers as well.

These include heart diseases, like hypertension, heart attacks, and respiratory diseases like bronchitis and lung cancer, oral cancers, and digestive cancers,

“Tobacco can affect any system of the body,” he said.

During an interview, Dr Diane Gashumba, the Minister for Health, promised to sanction anyone that does not comply with the law.

Inspections will start soon, she told this newspaper yesterday.  

Smoking in an ungazetted areas may attract up to Rwf50,000 in fines.

Speaking to The New Times, yesterday, Nsengiyumva Barakabuye, the chairman of Rwanda Hospitality Association, said that for any hotel to be licensed it must have designated places for smokers, as required by the law.

He, however, admitted that there might be some operators in the industry that may not be abiding by the law.

“You have to clearly designate a smoking area that’s separate from other parts of the establishment,” he said. “But there might be cases, which I am not aware of, because what I know is that there are operators that work without operating licenses. I wouldn’t say yes or no, unless I have details of a specific case.”

The law governing smoking in public places requires owners or managers of public premises to create a designated smoking area within the premises.

Designated smoking areas must meet certain technical requirements, including separate ventilation.

A survey conducted in 2013 on NCDs risk factors among 15-64 year-olds in Rwanda showed that 12.8 per cent of them use tobacco (19.1 male aged 15-64 and 7.1 female aged 15-64). The 2014/15 Rwanda Demographic Survey showed that prevalence of tobacco use among Rwandans was: 10% in men aged 15-59 (who smoke cigarettes and other tobacco products) and 2 per cent of tobacco use in women aged 15-49 (who smoke cigarettes, pipes and other tobacco products).

According to WHO, there are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, and around 80 per cent of these live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. 

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 7 million people a year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development.