Kenyans and Nairobians in particular are smoking their way to sickness and early graves.
Official World Health Organisation data found that in 2013 about 6.4 billion cigarettes were smoked in Kenya. In 2015, the figure had climbed to over 8 billion. We are in 2017 and the number is likely to be higher.
Smokers say, it is one habit that knows no boundaries and brings together the rich and poor, old and young, and people of different colour, religion, culture and language.
Even as the world today marks the ‘No Smoking Day, the statistics are scary.
According to International Tobacco Control Kenya survey 2015 report three million Kenyans aged 15 and above smoke cigarettes. The survey done in 21 counties showed that 83 per cent of men are smokers. The statistics did not capture those exposed to second-hand-smoke (smoke that has been exhaled, or breathed out, by the person smoking).
To deal with the threat of second-hand smoke, Nairobi County banned smoking in public. It introduced five smoking areaa. One at the Tusker Bus Station, Jevanjee Gardens, one near Holy Family Basilica, Uhuru Park and the last one down River Road, along Latema Road.
“Second-hand smoke is as dangerous...if not more,” says Dr Peter Odhiambo, a professor of heart and chest health.
It is not in dispute, Dr Odhiambo says, that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.
“What you will find are shoddy claims by businesses profiteering from tobacco. But in the minds of medical professionals we know the truth. Cigarette smoking causes not only cancer but also pneumonia, dementia, hypertension, high blood pressure and liver failure,” he adds.
Smoking, explains Odhiambo, who doubles up as the chairman of the Tobacco Control Board, begins from the insecurities of teenage life. Peer pressure and the naive drive to experiment, he says, quickly turn into addiction.
Dr Waweru Munyu, a Senior Instructor, Pulmonologist and Critical Care Specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, says that smokers become addicted primarily because of nicotine – one among at least 4,000 elements found in a tobacco.
“When it is taken in small quantities, nicotine creates a pleasant excitement. This feeling does not last for long and wears off quickly causing the need to light up another cigarette again and again which becomes an addiction,” Dr Munyu says.
An addicted person may, therefore, have no choice but to light up whenever the body demands for more nicotine.
“Except that they will be putting those around them at risk of contracting cancer and other fatal illnesses against their will,” says Dr Odhiambo.
Right to clean air
The only way to protect yourself from second-hand smoke, Odhiambo adds, is by making sure that you are nowhere close to a person smoking. But how do you do that? For starters, says Joel Gitali, the chairperson of Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance, the law says that all Kenyans have a right to clean air.
“A person smoking next to you – in public space – is infringing upon your rights,” Joel says.
“If a smoker is ignorant of the law it is upon you to tell them to look for the right space to smoke.”
The same law provides for avenues through which one can lodge a complaint against indignant smokers.
The Tobacco Control Act 2007 provides for extensive, effective tobacco control measures including a ban on smoking in public places.
Others are: a ban on direct and indirect tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, a ban on the sale of tobacco products to and by minors, and a requirement for tobacco products to carry health warnings.
It may be argued, says Odhiambo, that a smoker understands the kind of trouble they are putting themselves in. Which then begs for the question: What about you?
According to Dr Robert Ayisi, Nairobi County Secretary and head of public service: “We are following the law as per the 2014 tobacco control regulations.”
Ayisi could not furnish us with the number of arrests made of those flouting public smoking regulations, but said that Nairobi streets today are devoid of unlawful cigarette smoking.
Sleeping on the job
“Walk along one street: if you come across anyone smoking come and tell me – there is none,” Ayisi said.
However, a pedestrian along the streets within central business district may quickly discover that Ayisi’s assertion is not true. The Standard was able to snap pictures of smokers in public spaces.
Ayisi confirmed there are city council askaris on the look for those floating rules.
“A smoker caught breaking these laws is fined Sh50,000,” he says.
One of the designated smoking zones in the CBD is located at the GPO. It is not clear how many smoking zones are there in the city centre.
Public places, Ayisi says, are any spaces where any citizen is allowed to occupy freely: the streets, parks, discos, bars, entertainment joints, cinemas and theatres.
“Smoking zones should be available in such places,” Ayisi says.