Smoke-free environments

Do you smoke? If you are a smoker, do you know that you don’t have the right to endanger the health of non-smokers? Are you current on the latest initiatives or legal provisions in your country?

I was a casual smoker at one time. I used to take a few puffs from my friends during outings and fun times. Like many hard smokers, I didn’t pay heed to the harmful effects tobacco smoke can have on my health. The only thing I realised and I hated the most is the bad breath that came out; stinky mouth. How disgusting when you have to approach your partner or your mate or anyone who doesn’t smoke.

As I had started to experience unstable blood pressure I decided for a check up in 1998. I was shocked when the doctor asked me if I was a heavy smoker. Reason? The echocardiography revealed dark spots; well this is what he told me. He didn’t trust my word when I insisted that I smoked only on rare occasions; not even one cigarette in a week. If I had dark spots what would be the case with regular smokers? I felt so much remorse that I stopped tobacco consumption for good. No first hand smoking at all. I’m not so sure whether it applies for passive smoking as we are all somehow exposed to smoke in the environment.

Tobacco is known to be the second major cause of death in the world. It is responsible for about five million deaths each year. It accounts for numerous diseases, disability, and malnutrition, loss of productivity, increased health care costs and serious economic problems. In a report in 1994 it was estimated that the use of tobacco caused an annual global net loss of USD 200,000 millions. The current pattern in smoking is expected to result in some 10 million deaths each year by the year 2020.

Studies have shown that smoke contains some 4000 toxic chemicals. These affect not only the smoker but also non-smokers who live in the surrounding by a phenomenon known as secondhand smoking or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke is other people’s tobacco smoke. It can cause serious damage to the human body, like blood clotting, increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The risk of such diseases is the same in smokers and secondhand smokers. Secondhand smoking occurs mainly in enclosed environments, in rooms, offices, bars, restaurants, casinos, vehicles and other such places where people smoke.

Secondhand smoke stays in the environment for long and is most of the time invisible and odourless. In a room it may be present after two and half hours even if you open the windows. In a car it’s even worse as all the smoke is concentrated in a small area.

Scared? Well, there’s every reason to be. But we can do something about it, together. Although most smokers would argue it’s not easy to quit smoking. If you can choose to smoke at your own risk and peril, you have no right to put other people’s health at risk. Non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free environment.

That’s why the United Kingdom will be introducing a law “to protect employees and the public from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke”. As from 1 July this year, therefore, smoking in all “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed” public places and workplaces will be prohibited by law. The law aims at a smoke-free environment.

Enclosed premises would include those having a ceiling or roof and fully enclosed except for doors, windows or passageways. Substantially enclosed premises would be those with a ceiling or roof but having an opening in the walls that is less than half the total area of the walls.

So you won’t be allowed to smoke in a public transport and work vehicles carrying more than one person. Smoking signs will have to be displayed in all smoke-free premises and vehicles. Indoor smoking areas including staff smoking rooms will be forbidden; and anyone willing to smoke will have to go outside. There will be a legal responsibility on managers to prevent people from smoking in smoke-free premises and vehicles. It will be a criminal offence if you don’t comply with the requirements of the law and you’ll be liable to fixed penalties or maximum fines upon conviction.

What better initiative than the upcoming UK legislation to crack down on smokers in the context of World No-Tobacco Day to be celebrated on 31 May with the theme: “Smoke-free environments”.

In Mauritius the campaign has started on 23 May and will last until 7 June to sensitize people on the ill-effects of smoking and the need to promote a smoke-free environment. TV spots, forums, radio talks, poster competitions and regional workshops are scheduled during that period.

But it’s all a question of personal choice and conscience. If each of us could contribute in bringing a halt to tobacco smoking, the world would be a healthier place to live.

Contributor/Journalist,
Occupational Safety & Health Management Professional,
Personnel Management & Industrial Relations Professional,
Blogger, and Retired Civil Servant.
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