Marshall Bwanya Features Writer
“DANGER: Smoking is harmful to health…”
A warning that many people just read and brush aside as just another tag on many cigarette packets yet numerous cases across the globe have proven that smoking cigarettes in public has detrimental effects on both smokers and non-smokers who inhale the tobacco smoke that has many harmful chemicals and toxins.
Most cigarettes contain more than 250 harmful carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco smoke, which cause various diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema and cancers of the mouth, pancreas, cervix, lung, oesophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder and infertility, among others.
Over the years the Ministry of Health and Child Care has been hands-on in several campaigns that discourage people from smoking cigarettes in public places.
The Health and Child Care Ministry has been using legislations such as the Public Health Act Chapter 15:09 of 1996 and the Statutory Instrument 264 of 2002 on smoking regulations, which stipulate that smoking in public places such as halls, public offices, buses, airlines, schools and commuter omnibuses is prohibited, to fight the scourge of public smoking.
These laws which prohibit public smoking have however, gone unheeded by some smokers who breach these laws arguing that they cannot quit smoking because of the addiction and pleasant sensation cigarettes gives them.
Although in Zimbabwe, it is both illegal to drink and smoke in public, society has however, been callous towards public drinkers while extending its leniency on the latter.
National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi said public smoking was a criminal offence as stipulated by the Forestry Act.
“Section 81 of the Forestry Act prohibits smoking in public places with effect there is a public notice,” he said.
Chief Superintendent Nyathi, however, admitted that police have not been arresting or fining public smokers as instructed under the Public Health Act Chapter 15:09 of 1996 and Statutory Instrument 264 of 2002 on Tobacco Control which stipulate that smoking in public is a criminal offence.
Sadly, smoking in public poses more health risks compared to public drinking. Secondary smoke released into the atmosphere by a smoker is harmful to non-smokers because of its higher concentration of harmful chemical toxins.
People appealed to Government to enforce tighter measures to curb public smoking.
Harare resident Mr Mondli Manyathela urged law enforcement authorities to come with legislation and policies to solve acts of public smoking which have gone unpunished.
“People who drink in public are most likely to behave in an errant manner resulting in them committing criminal offences. This is why the police are determined to arrest individuals caught drinking in public despite the fact that public smoking is dangerous.
“Government should craft more punitive legislations that discourage smoking in public places. There are high health risks to other people who inhale secondary smoke through passive smoking. It is unfair for someone to be smoking in the presence of non-smokers and minors,” he said.
Another resident Ms Zandile Musara, said law enforcement authorities were being short- sighted as they were concentrating their efforts at curbing public drinking. She said they should no longer turn a blind eye to public smokers.
“It is unfortunate that law enforcement authorities are not strict on public smoking, which has devastating long-term effects on non-smokers and our environment.
‘‘They are concentrating more on curbing public drinking and forgetting public smoking,” she said.
The launch of a new brand of electronic cigarettes known as the e-cigarettes by a local company adds a new dilemma to smoking in public places.
Does this new cigarette protect non-smokers from harmful chemicals released by ordinary tobacco cigarettes?
Some experts in the health sector believe people who smoke e-cigarettes maintain a healthier lifestyle as compared to those who consume traditional cigarettes which contain harmful carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
E-cigarettes are already being sold in selected distributors, local supermarkets and nightclubs in and around Harare.
Child Care deputy director of Food Safety and Port Health Management in the Ministry of Health and Victor Nyamandi said current world research favoured the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
“As far as I know worldwide researches have not yet proved that e-cigarettes cause any negative health effects to the public.
“As a ministry we also have been challenged by the current results to carry further research regarding e-cigarettes to give informed accurate decisions to the public.
“Research is ongoing and I am sure convincing results will come up soon. Zimbabwe is not an island but actually shares ideas and information with other countries,” he said.
Mr Nyamandi added that the challenge the Ministry of Health and Child Care was facing to discourage smokers from smoking in public was that some tobacco companies were vigorously marketing their products and even conducting road shows.
Producers of the e-cigarette, Vapour Blue, said e-cigarettes were safe to smoke in public and that a smoker can indulge in his or her smoking habits without endangering the health and welfare of non-smokers.
In an interview, Vapour Blue managing director Kudakwashe Gwasera said e-cigarettes give the same pleasure and sensation as conventional cigarettes excluding the health hazards caused by tobacco cigarettes.
“A lot of people cannot quit smoking because of the nicotine addiction as Vapour Blue we came up with an e-cigarette that offers the same sensation as an ordinary cigarette which a smoker can smoke without affecting the health of other people and their own,” he said.
Mr Gwasera said e-cigarettes have an electronic inhaler called Personal Vaporiser which vaporises a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking.
“When a smoker inhales an e-cigarette the PV vaporises the nicotine solution into an aerosol mist that delivers nicotine to a person’s body in the absence of harmful chemicals.
“The e-cigarette does not release secondary smoke as the smoke exhaled by the smoker is actually water vapour that is actually harmless and odourless,” he said.
Mr Gwasera said there were similarities between e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes as they contain the same amount of nicotine.
According to Vapour Blue e-cigarettes do not contain harmful substances such as tar and other carcinogenic chemicals.
A cigarette lover, Mr Arthur Jimu, said e-cigarettes made it convenient for him to smoke in public without inconveniencing or compromising the health of non-smokers.
“I sometimes have cigarette craving when I am in the vicinity of public places and the distinct nature of e-cigarettes has made it possible for me to smoke in public with a clean conscience knowing that I am not causing any health risks to non-smokers.
“People used to cover their noses in disgust and look at me with distaste each time I smoked conventional cigarettes in public. However, with the e-cigarette I can smoke without drawing any negative attention and criticism from other members of the public,” he said.
Mr Clement Chakanaka said although e-cigarettes facilitate a healthier and safer way of smoking they do not give the same pleasure and sensation as conventional cigarettes.
“Smoking conventional cigarettes may be hazardous to my health but I am reluctant to even smoke the e-cigarette in public because it does not give me the same taste, pleasure and sensation I feel when smoking conventional cigarettes,” he said.
Mr Hope Chitesi said e-cigarette did not give him the actual feeling that he feels when smoking a cigarette.
“On numerous occasions I tried to adjust to the e-cigarette because of the ‘‘positive’’ health aspect which it is said to posses but I have failed because it does have the same taste of the particular conventional brand I smoke,” he said.
Countries like Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Kenya, India, Puerto Rico, Malaysia and Panama among others banned public smoking, and those found doing so are arrested and prosecuted.