Who cares if children die from secondhand smoking? Nobody

There are two restaurants that I frequent as many times as my wallet allows. Kimihurura-based Papyrus and Kiyovu’s Republika.
Sunny Ntayombya
Sunny Ntayombya

There are two restaurants that I frequent as many times as my wallet allows. Kimihurura-based Papyrus and Kiyovu’s Republika.

I find their menus rich and their service laudable.

However, over the last two weeks, my dinner experiences have been marred by the wafts of cigarette smoke that keep coming my way no matter how much I try to avoid them.

When I asked a waitress in one of the establishments to ask the patron to stamp out his cigarette because it was not allowed, she walked over to him and asked him to do so.

Thankfully the chastened smoker graciously did.

However, at the second restaurant, when I asked for a similar courtesy, I was told that I would have to grin and bear it because smoking was ‘allowed’.

“That is why we have ashtrays on every table,” I was told politely.

As a former smoker, I know just how pleasant it is to light up after a scrumptious meal. However, if I still smoked, I would have to do it in the parking lot whatever restaurant I was in because, if the law relating to the control of tobacco is to be believed, sipping a beer while puffing away is a definite no-no.

Article 11 of the law Nº 08/2013, which was signed by the President on March 1, this year and published in the Official Gazette on April 8, specifically states that smoking in any enclosed or open space accessible to the public or at the workplace, including cinemas and theatres, restaurants, hotels, pubs, bars, public transport and indoor public transport terminals, is forbidden. 

But let’s be honest here, how many places actually ban it? How many places have a ‘No Smoking’ sign? And even if they do, do the people who work there stop people from lighting up? I have to answer in the negative.

Why is this so? Because they don’t know the dangers of secondhand smoke? Or because they don’t know there is a law banning smoking in public areas? Or is it a combination of both issues?

What particularly concerned me wasn’t the fact that I was inhaling smoke (after all, as a former smoker my lungs already have a few issues to deal with) but rather the fact that children were present in all the restaurants I found smokers in.

If the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) is to be believed, second-hand smoke is not to be trifled with. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. The death toll is extraordinarily high.

It causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease and 3,400 lung cancer deaths from nonsmokers.

The CDC believes that nonsmokers increase their risk of heart disease by 25-30% while increasing their risk of developing lung cancer is estimated to be at 20-30 %.

Children who inhale secondhand smoke are particularly at risk.  The CDC has found that chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing.

Not only that, wheezing and coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke and the smoke can trigger an asthma attack as well. 

I’m sure that our lawmakers knew all this and that is why they passed the law. However, they forgot to do one thing;

While they banned smoking in public, they seem to have forgotten to include a provision punishing those who defied the law.

Article 26 of the anti-tobacco law states that anyone who smokes in a public place ‘Shall be liable to penalties provided for under the Penal Code’.

Problem is, as I searched the Penal Code, I discovered that there wasn’t a penalty for public smoking. In other words, if someone was caught smoking gleefully, there wasn’t a thing that anyone could do to punish him or her.

At the end of the day, it is naïve to think that people will change their habits simply because they’ve been asked ‘nicely’.

In New York, for example, you can get fined between $50-$250 for smoking in public places.

Here, you can’t even get fined a single Franc. Unless there is a penalty that either the individual smoker or the establishment will incur, the anti-tobacco law will remain a defanged, declawed tiger.

And as a result of that omission, we will remain at mercy of lung cancer, heart attacks and early death. Personally, I have no wish to pass away any earlier than I must. 

Dear MPs, city authorities, mayors, restaurant owners, smokers, I call upon you to help us, nonsmokers, live longer, healthier lives.

Twitter: @sannykigali
Blog: sunnyntayombya.wordpress.com

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