Hon. Gbolahan Yishawu, a member of Lagos House of Assembly, representing Eti-Osa Constituency II, sponsored the bill that stops Lagosians from smoking in public. The bill which was recently passed unanimously by members of the Assembly is waiting for Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s assent (signature).
The first term lawmaker told ENCOMIUM Weekly in this exclusive interview why he sponsored the bill…
What would you say informed the sponsorship of the bill?
We produce legislation to protect the lives and health of our people. The issue of passive smoking which is also called second hand smoking which is defined as the smoke exhaled by a smoker is as dangerous and hazardous as the smoke that the smoker actually smokes too. So, if we don’t try to curb it, we will find a situation where more and more people will get hurt by this dangerous act.
Eventually, the government will be spending money on the health system in trying to treat the ailments that were caused by this habit.
Also, we know that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. Even if people are not dying from inhaling the smoke of the smokers, the man-hour that would be wasted in falling ill and so on will take its toll on the economy. These are preventable. With a little regulation we can put our people on track, especially the people that are not taking the cigarette.
This bill that has already been passed by the House of Assembly is not telling smokers not to smoke. We try to advice people that are smoking to stop smoking. I am sure a large number of them know it is not good to smoke. But this law is not saying they should not smoke, even though we are encouraging them to stop smoking.
But the law has more to do with a non-smoker that is exposed to the smoke of a smoker which is hazardous.
What are the challenges you encountered in getting the bill passed?
I don’t call them challenges. We deal with bills every time. It’s just a task and I found it very interesting like every other bill that we handle on the floor of the House.
Were there not lobbying from some quarters like tobacco companies?
I will say they lobbied but not a pressure lobby. Most tobacco companies in the country are international companies and they have a standard of operation.
They lobbied on the ground that “oh, this law is lovely”, they support it but the areas where smoking should be banned should not be total. We put this into consideration to an extent because they are in business as well. Those selling cigarettes are in business too. It is some sort of livelihood for some people.
So, we took that into consideration but not because of any lobbying. That is why some part of the bill allowed restaurant, bars and hotels to designate 10 percent of their premises for smoking on condition that it is well ventilated, should have an enclosure such that the smoking area does not in any way disturb the non-smoking area.
How did you feel when the bill was eventually passed by the House of Assembly?
I felt very elated that I have been able to contribute my quota to governance in the state being my first term in the Lagos State House of Assembly. That in my first term I have been able to sponsor a private member bill and my colleagues supported it.
When the bill was passed, the support I got from Lagosians has been tremendous. By and large, I am elated and happy and I have already started work on another bill to ensure better governance in the state.
Do you nurse any fear that the governor may not sign the bill into law?
I think we are on the same page with the governor as well. The governor would like much to be done and I don’t really nurse such fear that the governor will not sign it.
Not really. But what we are talking about is the passive smokers. I have seen people that have asthma. So, if someone who is asthmatic is around a smoker you will see the way they can have an attack, particularly those that don’t have their ventolin (inhaler).
Climate change is a major issue. All these things are issues. So, it is a way to go. Cleaner air is better for all of us.
Don’t you envisage any problem of implementation, particularly by the law enforcement agencies?
I don’t think there should be any problem. Like all other laws, we are going to have a level of advocacy, sensitization of the public. Section 16 of the law which is the last section of the bill says that six months from the assent of the governor is given, the law will come into force.
That period is supposed to be for advocacy, sensitization, creating awareness and for the people to know about the law. Also, when the law comes into force it is self regulatory to an extent. But there will be law enforcement agency, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASPA) enforcing that law.
It doesn’t stop at that, the various regulatory bodies that regulate bars, restaurants and other establishments would also be part of the enforcement of this law. Also people can call in to report when they think some people are breaching the law or your right has been breached.
Because, if somebody smokes in your presence, to an extent your right has been breached, you can call in the law. There are fines and penalties that are attached to those offences.
As a smoker, if you breach the law, you are liable to fine of N10,000 to N15,000 or one month to three months imprisonment or noncustodial service which is called community service by some people.
Then, if you own or manage a premises and you don’t put on the appropriate sign or someone is smoking in a non-smoking section of your premises without you cautioning the person, you are liable to a fine of N100,000. If it is a corporate body, you are liable to a fine of N250,000.
One aspect of the bill that I like most is about the children. You are not allowed to smoke in presence of children who are under 18. This is to protect our younger ones.
In a society like ours, how easy do you think it would be for a child to report his or her parents for smoking?
We are not saying the child should report. Somebody else can report if you are seen smoking in the presence of your child or children. Most smokers know the danger in smoking. It is written on the cigarette packet that smokers are liable to die young.
Why then will any responsible parent expose their own children to the danger of smoke?
– TOLANI ABATTI