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Reader’s take on public smoking

In my article two weeks ago I raised the issue of public smoking in which I argued that it is high time our city councils prohibited cigarette smokers from puffing away in public. I pointed out that non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke when someone is smoking in public suffer the same health risks as smokers. I mentioned that the issue of second-hand smoking should be considered as a public health risk and city councils should urgently take steps to address it. An avid reader of My City Elizabeth Mkutumula has responded to the article and I thought it would be selfish of me not to share her thoughtful response. Enjoy the reading…

Dear Marcus

I just wanted to comment on your wonderful article “Puff puff don’t pass” from last week. Thank you for bringing this important topic to our attention. I too as a parent and a public health professional have been many time dismayed by this unbecoming behavior of smoking in public places (even indoors!) in this day and age.

While as a developing country Malawi has a long way to go to catch up with where developed countries are, Malawi doesn’t need to take as long as these countries took to get there. Because of the internet and other technologies that have opened up the globe, we have the privilege of seeing what others are doing and how they got there and implementing changes faster than they did. I liken it to Christianity. Christians today have the luxury of seeing the whole story of Jesus and choosing whether to follow or not, unlike those people that lived during or immediately after Jesus’ time. They knew not how the story would end… was He really a Messiah? Would He really rise from the dead?

We know the effects of smoking. We know the dangers of secondhand smoke especially to children and people with respiratory conditions. We can skip some of the stages of fact-finding because we have access to information that others already collected on the matter. Yes, we should adapt the information to our setting but certain facts will not change.

However, I differ with you a bit on how to tackle this problem. As much as the government is meant to be for the people, sometimes we the people have to force the hand of those in authority and businesses that want our money. For example, look at the plastic ban, it is now in effect but nothing has changed.

You and I and many others that believe that smoking in public is uncool and harmful to our health should not only lobby for legislation but lobby for owners of restaurants, hotels, and other private places to provide smoking-free zones or risk losing out on our money. We as Malawians need to adopt other ways of doing things. Learn from other countries. Boycotting businesses or products has been proven to be an effective means of bringing change.

I doubt if our government is thinking the way you are thinking. I heard our Minister of Agriculture promising tobacco farmers that he would do something to make sure that tobacco continues to be profitable for them despite the World Health Organization’s anti-smoking campaigns which other countries are adopting. How will the minister of health or parliament reconcile this with efforts to re-enact regulations for smoke-free zones in public places?

Thank you for speaking about our health and the health of our children.

Elizabeth Mkutumula.

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