by Sara Nghishidimbwa
THE purpose of this article is to appeal to the Namibian government to fulfil or at the very least bring closer to fulfillment its promises to the masses through its laws.
In 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), one of the first global public health treaties aimed at reducing the demand for tobacco products and addressing supply issues.
Its main objective is to protect present and future generations from the devastating health consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.
In 2010, Namibia enacted the Tobacco Products Control Act ( No. 1 of 2010), effectively banning smoking in public places by virtue of Section 22.
Article 144 of the Namibian Constitution states that ‘unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or act of parliament, the general rules of public international law and international agreements binding upon Namibia under this Constitution shall form part of the law of Namibia’.
Notable about Article 144 is the second portion that states that rules of international law, once binding, become part of Namibian law.
Additionally, Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution bestows on the government an obligation to promote public health and ensure that the masses enjoy this right without exception.
In light of the above provisions, one therefore asks the question whether the right to public health of the masses has been justifiably upheld in as far as it relates to smoking in public places?
A state of emergency was declared on 17 March 2020 in Namibia and subsequently, regulations were gazetted and enforced, which either suspended certain economic activities; empowered certain officers of law; equipped government hospitals with the right infrastructure;restricted the movement of people; and divided the country into zones in order to better monitor and contain the pandemic.
Although all these acts by the government and stakeholders are plausible, there is one sector which should also be placed under similar conditions as those that were recently enforced on the sale of alcohol products.
The sale of tobacco currently regulated under the Tobacco Products Control (Act. No. 1 of 2010) prohibits the smoking of tobacco products in public places and render any perpetrator caught smoking in a public place liable to a fine of not exceeding N$60 000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
TOBACCO AND COVID-19
Namibia remains one of the countries in Africa with a high estimated prevalence of tobacco smoking, according to the WHO, which ranks Namibia’s tobacco consumption eighth in Africa.
The highest prevalence of tobacco smoking in Africa is in Lesotho, followed by Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Madagascar. Although the government has rendered smoking in public a criminal offence, there has been no deliberate and effective measures to enforce the law.
Not only does smoking affect the smoker, it also affects those exposed to smokers.
It is argued that smokers face a more significant threat of the coronavirus and thus place their families at risk.
Recent studies on smoking status and Covid-19 cases in China found the need for intensive care unit support and ventilation or death as a result of the progression of the disease was higher among current and former smokers than non-smokers.
Researchers calculated that smokers were 1,4 times more likely to have severe symptoms of Covid-19 and approximately 2,4 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU, or need mechanical ventilation, or die, compared to non-smokers. These studies also demonstrate that smokers made up a higher percentage of severe cases of Covid-19.
We know that tobacco smoke exposure is a major risk factor for lung disease and cigarette smoking is a substantial risk factor for bacterial and viral infections.
It must become a universal concern to all of us that people with or without lung problems will be exposed to second-hand smoke, making them vulnerable to Covid-19. In addition, we know that second-hand smoke increases the risk of acute respiratory infections. It is therefore advised that people stop smoking tobacco to minimise the risks associated with the current coronavirus pandemic.
ENFORCEMENT OF THE ACT
By enorcing the Tobacco Act, Namibia has the opportunity to promote public health and uphold its global commitment through the international instruments that were ratified, in this case the FCTC.
* Sara N N Nghishidimbwa is a legal practitioner at the High Court. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.