May 12, 2014, 10:47 AM
As the campaign to ban smoking in public places intensifies across the country, anti-smoking campaigners are leaving no stone unturned to make sure that non-smokers are protected from second-hand smoking, which according to health experts is dangerous.
Against this backdrop, the Gambia Police Force, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Africa Network for Information and Action Against Drugs (Raid the Gambia), is holding a series of discussions with the media and security personnel.
The latest among such meetings was held last Thursday with other stakeholders with a view to discussing ways and means of banning smoking in public.
The Prohibition of Smoking Act 1998 was passed by the National Assembly on 25th July 1998 and assented to by the President on the 23rd of September 1998, in a bid to prohibit smoking in public places.
While many expressed the view that little has been done to enforce the Act since its enactment, anti-tobacco campaigners are of the conviction that, despite the delay, the law is enforceable.
Addressing participants at a stakeholders meeting held at the Police headquarters in Banjul, Yerro Bah, Programme Manager of the Health Education Unit and tobacco focal person at the Ministry of Health, highlighted the effects of smoking, describing it as a "Silent Killer".
“Tobacco kills not only smokers but non-smokers too. Smokers have rights likewise the non-smokers, but the smokers have no right to pollute those around them,” Bah said, urging heads of institutions and premises owners to create smoking zones for smokers.
Failure to comply with the provisions of the Act, he added, will result in possible prosecution.
Momodou Kassama, World Health Organisation Communication Officer who himself is an anti-tobacco campaigner, said the WHO was involved in a legal tussle with tobacco companies since the 80s. He added that neither the Health ministry nor the WHO can do it alone, and thus called for concerted efforts towards the banning of smoking in public places.
"Tobacco is a killer disease, and harms both the users and those around them. Millions are dying due to the use of tobacco and, in 20 years time, 8 million people will die of tobacco-related diseases,” Kassama said, adding that there are 4000 different chemicals contained in one single cigarette, and these can cause multiple diseases.
According to him, 1.3 billion people smoke worldwide and 80% of them come from the developing countries (Africa). He urged all stakeholders to be advocates of change.
Hon. Mam Cherno Jallow, National Assembly Member for Upper Niumi and member of the Assembly’s select committee on health, said as legislators, they legislate and allow others to enforce. “Any time we pass a law, there must be a vigorous mass sensitisation to enable people know the content of such an Act," he stated.
He warned the Health ministry to properly look into the Act and come up with amendments in some sections, which he cited as examples.
Sambujang Conteh, a leading anti-tobacco campaigner and Director of RAID the Gambia also joined several speakers in calling for enforcement of the ban of smoking in public places, and increased taxation of tobacco imported into the country.
Commissioner Fatty represented the Inspector General of Police, while the police spokesperson Superintendent Sulayman Secka chaired the meeting.