WASHINGTON D.C. —
The government is planning to introduce a law that would prohibit public smoking but the move has been received with mixed feelings.
Authorities are planning to introduce a Bill in parliament that, if passed, would compel all those found guilty of smoking in public to pay a fine of $500 or alternatively spend six months in jail.
But some habitual smokers like Fibion Munhuwa have vowed not to stop smoking despite the proposed harsh penalties.
"The fine is too big considering that things in the country are so tough," he said. "I am not going to stop smoking because of their threats to ban public smoking and make people pay huge fines. People don't even have the money."
But Nigel Gwekwerere says the government’s plans are welcome arguing that most people are affected by passive smoking, especially children and pregnant women.
"I support the government's plans to ban public smoking because there are many diseases that one can get via passive smoking," said Gwekwerere. "What I do not agree with are the huge fines and jail sentence being proposed. Maybe they need to rethink that."
Gwekwerere’s sentiments were echoed by Kuwadzana resident Malvern Samhembere who says smoking has no nutritional value.
"Smoking does not really help our bodies and so the government is right in trying to protect the ordinary people from those who smoke all the time," he said.
Greendale resident Gladys Runyowa concurs with Gwekwerere and Samhembere.
She adds those who do not smoke suffer the most when smokers are allowed to blow their pipes in public.
"It's very commendable what the government is proposing because if you look in our society you will see so many people who have been afflicted by illnesses related to tobacco even when they do not smoke," she said. "The government, in my opinion, should however look again at the issue of $500 as a fine and reduce the fine and the jail time for offenders because I think that's just too much."
But Budiriro resident Clayton Ndlela says Zimbabwe would lose a lot of money through tobacco sales if public smoking was banned. Ndlela says that uptake of tobacco would be reduced by the planned move thereby drastically affecting revenue collection in the country.
"I do not understand it because Zimbabwe we are a tobacco-producing country," he said. "We would lose a lot of money as a country if we proceed towards that route being proposed by the government. They will re-think, I think."
Meanwhile, Albert Chidhakwa, who says he does not smoke, thinks the government’s plans showed that authorities are now diverting people's attention to avoid scrutiny in areas where it has failed, in particular running the economy.
He adds that the proposed fine is too high, especially at a time when most people in the country are earning salaries that are below the poverty datum line, pegged by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions or ZCTU at $584 for a family of six.
"Things have been getting worse in the country and what a way to divert attention. The government in the end may not even introduce the so-called proposed fine and jail terms but I think that they are just diverting attention from the ills facing society that they are failing to address."
Chidhakwa’s sentiments were echoed by Tichaona Murandu, who lives in Harare’s Hatcliffe high density suburb. Murandu says the proposed fines are a clear attempt by the cash-strapped government to fleece Zimbabweans of their hard-earned money.
"They have run out of ideas and now they want to talk about banning public smoking and introducing tough jail terms," said Murandu. "Things are hard at the moment. They want to charge someone $500 for smoking a pack od cigarettes that costs much less; it's absurd."
Faith Musarurwa, who contested for the Muzarabani parliamentary seat under an MDC-T ticket, said authorities should first introduce smoking zones before implementing its proposed plan to criminalize public smoking.
I think it’s a brilliant idea for the government to introduce smoking places for those who smoke because it is posing some health hazards for those who do not smoke,” said Musarurwa.
“I think that will be the best thing the government can do for the rest of the country.”
Cigarette manufacturers have been warning tobacco consumers that smoking may be hazardous to health but the warning has not been heeded by many in the tobacco-producing country.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse deputy in the health ministry, Dorcas Sithole, told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper that Zimbabwe became an affiliate member of the World Health Organization on Tobacco Control and some of the prerequisites include aligning tobacco control policies with international regulations.
Under the proposed National Alcohol Control Policy Bill that is set to be presented before parliament, the law would also regulate how much alcohol an individual should consume in public bars.