A good gamble

Commendations are in order for the management of King’s Casino, who will, this week, convert the entire establishment into a no-smoking area. One of our colloquialisms is “one, one full basket,” and we hope that other establishments will follow this lead.

We have had articles and letters in this newspaper about the nonchalance from smokers, the authorities and business owners, when it comes to smoking. It seems as if all the rights belong to the smokers and those who are affected can either suffer or leave.

According to the Tobacco Free Initiative Focal Point Colin O’Keiffe, in an interview with The Daily OBSERVER, Antigua & Barbuda is not alone in this regard. While many Caribbean countries have signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, they have not enacted legislation to make the event more than a photo opportunity.

The WHO FCTC was entered into force on February 27, 2005, and has 168 parties. We know that, almost routinely, governments become signatories to conventions and then never honour the obligations by passing law. But this issue of smoking, particularly second-hand smoke,  is too serious for the region, Antigua & Barbuda included, to simply make sport.

In a news report, O’Keiffe described attempts at drafting legislation as “a round-about story.” Reportedly, the politicians talk a good game when pressed on the matter, but that’s the sum total of their commitment. “We need to have serious commitment from the political directorate; not just them saying they are going to do something, but actually doing something,” O’Keiffe said.

Perhaps we can attribute the seeming inertia to the fact that we are hogtied to the tourist dollar, so much so that the customer is always right. That, of course, is not to say that only visitors to our island offend with their proclivities to smoke in public. But it should not be understated how infuriating it is to see people, who come from countries where there are serious restrictions on smoking, blowing their poison in crowded places, affecting adults and children alike.

We know that the Caribbean offers sun, sea and sand, tax havens, romance in paradise … in essence, the suspension of reality. But health – including that of the poor employees in the bars and the hotels who do not have the option to relocate or complain – is too important to gamble on, even when we are talking about the almighty tourist dollar.

Who among us disagrees that the health of the nation is the wealth of the nation?

As the Tobacco Initiative Focal Point noted, the aim is not to place a ban on smoking, since tobacco is a legal substance. But it is imperative that the use is controlled and that there are designated smoking areas.

In the United States, from which we in the region pattern many things, while there is no federal ban on smoking, there are variations of laws in most states. Internet research shows that of the 60 most populated cities in the US, with the exception of 16, there is a smoking ban covering all bars and restaurants. Many states also have restrictions in the workplace.

In the United Kingdom, smoking is banned in all public indoor spaces. Additionally, smoking is banned in the workplace, unless a person works alone, and in company vehicles used by more than one person, even if the smoker is travelling alone.

The rationale behind the bans, in the international arena, is to cut sickness and deaths from second-hand smoke.

Studies show that second-hand smoke, which comes from what a smoker exhales or from the end of the lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe, contains at least 50 chemical compounds known to cause cancer. This in addition to the other diseases linked to the second-hand smoke.

The American Cancer Society website notes, among other facts, that “secondhand smoke can cause harm in many ways. In the United States alone, each year it is responsible for an estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease in non-smokers who live with smokers; about 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults; other breathing problems in non-smokers, including coughing, mucus, chest discomfort, and reduced lung function; 150,000 to 300,000 lung infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in children younger than 18 months of age, which result in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalisations annually; increases in the number and severity of asthma attacks in about 200,000 to 1 million children who have asthma; and more than 750,000 middle ear infections in children.”

Back at home, O’Keiffe noted that people will have to agitate for the legislators to take pattern from the US and the UK where smoking is concerned. His hope was that “one of these days it will fall on ears inclined to assist.”

We take it one step further by saying that we need to see to it that this matter ratchets up the national agenda. We can begin by talking forcefully to our parliamentary representatives.

Meantime, those who care about this issue must keep their distance from smokers, and that means patronising businesses with no-smoking policies and shunning those that say anything goes.