It is 10 pm in a popular bar in one of the major suburbs in Accra’s but it is as though the sun just settled.
Yes, it is the Easter Holidays and many people are out here to shed some stress off and have fun.
Seated two tables away from mine, is Bismark, and his friends – three women and a man between the ages of 20 and 25.
One of the waitresses sends the third set of drinks to their table, this time with two packs of cigarette.
The two gentlemen take out a stick each, lights them up and start smoking.
In a matter of minutes, the ladies take their turn and join in puffing thick smoke through their nostrils into the air.
It continues for close to thirty minutes amidst the hundreds of people seated there; all subconsciously inhaling a significant portion of the contaminated air into their lungs.
Bismark and his friends continue inhaling and puffing out smoke the entire time they were at the bar, enjoying themselves while exposing the rest at the bar to the dangers of second-hand smoking.
This is a trend conspicuous in many bars in the city, not only in Accra but many parts of the country, contributing significantly to the high prevalence of second-hand smoking in Ghana.
According to the 6th edition of the Tobacco Atlas report, an estimated one-fifth of males and one-third of females globally were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2016 alone.
It caused an estimated 884,000 deaths in the world in the same year.
The report also revealed that years of life lost due to ill-health, disability, or early death because of second-hand smoke was 6.4 million years for low respiratory infections, 2.5 million for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more than 200,000 for the middle ear infection.
The World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which Ghana is a signatory to, demands that all public places like bars and restaurants should be completely smoke-free.
To effectively implement the WHO FCTC, Ghana enacted a National Tobacco Control Act, the Public Health Act 851, in 2012 which prohibited smoking in all public places.
But like the bar in Accra where I met Bismark and his friends, many public places completely contravene the mitigating measures Ghana has put in place to address the public use of tobacco.
Bismark and his friends obviously were either not aware of the provision or simply didn’t care about the environmental and health implication of what they were doing.
In 2015, a Ghanaian born US-based researcher led a team to conduct a research that confirmed that despite the passage of the law, implementation was lax.
The objective of the research was to examine the compliance to Article 8 of the WHO FCTC tobacco control law in Ghana using the change in the concentration of second-hand tobacco smoke exposure at public places before and after the passage of the law by Ghana’s parliament.
The findings revealed that 70 percent of public places across the country after the ban remained the same. 50 percent of the managers were not aware of the tobacco control law, 80 percent of the managers think tobacco control law is not properly enforced. 70 percent of all smoking public places do not display ‘NO SMOKING’ signs.
Lead researcher, Dr Wil Agbenyikey is worried the research revealed a high level of noncompliance to WHO FCTC Article 8 and Ghana’s Tobacco Control Law.
He fingers inadequate enforcement of Ghana’s Tobacco Control Law for the trend.
“It means that though the Law has been passed there is no enforcement, and even if there is enforcement, it is not being done well. It is quite unfortunate”.
So why are the LAWS not being enforced?
Divine Darlington Logo works with the Tobacco Control and doubles as the Principal Research Officer for the Ghana Health Service.
In an interview with him on the sidelines of the world tobacco conference in Cape Town-South Africa, he vehemently confirmed, “Smoking in public place is ban outright if you are found smoking in public places you will be dealt with the Law”.
But Mr Logo points to a lack of funding for tobacco control in Ghana as the reason for the inability to effectively implement the law.
“In a year, for us to work effectively, we need over $100,000 because tobacco control is not for a particular group of people but for everybody. But for some time now, we haven’t received funds from the state. We used to receive funds from donor countries and organisations but it has also stopped. This year we do not have budgetary allocation and support from anywhere”.
According to him, the tobacco control unit only receives technical support from the state, a situation that makes it difficult to cover all aspects of their education and implementation process.
Mr Logo laments the relatively higher global funding support for diseases like Malaria and Tuberculosis to meagre funding for tobacco, although tobacco kills more people globally than the two diseases combined.
Tobacco kills 7 million every year, Malaria kills 1.2 million annually according to the 2010 World Malaria report whiles 1.5 million die from Tuberculosis according to the latest WHO report.
Mr Logo revealed that the unit has had to struggle to keep creating awareness in schools and local assemblies in the little way they can though it is not enough.
“We have passed the tobacco control law in 2012, we have our Legislative Instruments in 2016 but that is not enough to fight the canker. The challenge we have is the funds to move to all the necessary places. We need it.”
Until government and the relevant authorities provide funds for the tobacco control unit, the implementation of the Laws will hang in the balance and people like Bismark and his friends will continue smoking in public and cause more damage to the health of innocent people.