Non-smokers, rise up!

We've got some of the most advanced anti-tobacco legislation in the world, but it's worth nothing if we don't enforce it. On World No Tobacco Day, it's time to get activist.

We've claimed a lot of clean indoor air since the days of smoking in cinemas and airplanes, but we're not in the clear yet, as the latest World Health Organisation figures on tobacco's ravages attest:

The Holocaust claimed 6 million. Tobacco use now claims nearly that number of lives each year, and rising. It's rising because numbers of smokers are increasing globally, with most of the increases among poor and middle-income people. And secondhand smoke, the most serious indoor environmental pollutant, kills 600 000 passive smokers a year.

So taking a stand whenever you can to spread the word and uphold the smoking laws is not about being officious; it's about potentially saving lives and alleviating human misery and ill-health. It's about claiming your right to breathe.

Our hard-won anti-tobacco legislation gets flouted every day. When you see this happening, speak up, but do so in a way that's most likely to get results.

Constructive smoke-busting
When you see the law being broken in a restaurant or other venue, here's what to do:

1. Don't feel cowed. It's your right to complain when someone smokes in your presence and to report smoking in any area it's prohibited. The law is very clear on what is allowed and what isn't.

2. Don't indulge in a temper tantrum, however tempting. This will only widen the smoker-non-smoker divide, instill resentment and quite possibly encourage smokers to puff away even more. (Call it “defiance smoking”.) Non-smokers have a bad rep for being bossy and petty; at worst, we get the “Smoke Nazi” label! Don't play into the stereotype. It's perfectly possible to complain in a firm yet civil manner.

3. It's generally best not to tackle the individual smoker (although you can, keeping that “civil manner” uppermost in your mind), but rather approach the owner / manager / supervisor of the venue and ask them deal with smoking transgressions.

4. If the owner / manager / supervisor refuses to assist you, or allows the illegal smoking to continue, you're quite entitled to take further steps.

5. The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has this excellent suggestion: take a photo (with your cell phone is fine) of the illegal smoking activity. Aim to include in the photo features, like the venue's name, that will help identify it.

6. Report the incident to the Environmental Health Officer of the relevant local authority. For good measure, you can also report it to the National Council Against Smoking (011 725 1514).

7. Be prepared to follow up to ensure action has been taken, and to even make a nuisance of yourself if that's what it takes. Many readers tell me in exasperation how they have complained via the official avenues, to no avail. So keep at it. Simply complaining and reporting incidents is a form of action: it reminds everyone receiving the complaint  your report of the law, and that South Africans take their rights seriously.

In the case of workplace smoking transgressions, Dr Terry Berelowitz, Medical Director of Occupational Care SA, recommends the following steps:

1. In the workplace the employee is protected by tobacco legislation as well as by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

2. No employee can be exposed to second-hand smoke. If they are they should initially write a request for remediation of the situation.

3. If (2) bears no fruit, lodge a formal grievance with shop steward / Health & Safety Representative / other representation.

4. Still no success? Repeat (3) and copy in the Department of Labour.

Useful contacts
Department of Health
Department of Labour
Lucy Balona, Executive Manager Marketing and Communication CANSA. or tel: 011-616 7662.
National Council Against Smoking (011 725 1514).

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, May 2011

Get more advice from our Labour Lawyer, Workplace Health Expert or EnviroHealth Expert. 

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