Nairobi has become the third city in Kenya to implement a ban on smoking that has tobacco companies running for cover. The proscription went into effect last week in all public venues of the capital, and from all indications, restaurants, taverns, and tourist sites are observing the statute with minimum rancor. Earlier bans were imposed on the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa and the rift valley town of Nakuru. Nairobi fines are high by Kenyan standards, about 300 dollars, 20-thousand Kenyan shillings, or six months in prison, as mandated by Nairobi’s local governing City Council. From the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, First Councilor for Economic and Political Affairs James Wakiaga says local officials imposed the stiff fines to let the public know they mean serious business.
“I think they’ll have an effect because the people who are being fined are being fined to the tune of 20-thousand (Kenya shillings), which is really not little money by Kenyan standards. I think this will have an effect in terms of carrying off people who are going to disobey the new bylaw,” he notes.
The ban is helping residents of capital meet health and environmental standards as it stops locals from lighting up. Councilor Wakiaga says Nairobi motivations stem more from a desire to keep up with international standards rather than to follow the lead of its sister cities.
“This is part of the global trend, really, in trying to create smoke-free zones. In Kenya, I know it started years back with the offices. Most of the offices in Kenya have no-smoking zones,” he said.
Wakiaga also says that public support for the ban stems from a growing awareness about the dangers for non-smokers to contract lung cancer and other serious afflictions from being exposed second-hand to the cigarette smoke of others.
“Actually, there is a great awareness that’s clear, when it comes to the health matters and the effects of smoking, and basically, especially for the secondary people, those who don’t smoke directly but get affected by people who are smoking. But I guess the next level is that we should see if we can try and create, maybe, smoke zones, so that those who want to smoke there have particular areas where they can go and smoke,” he suggests.
Wakiaga indicates that a majority of Kenyans support the ban. “So far there really isn’t any major form of opposition,” he says. “You know, we really don’t have a big number of people who are smokers. The culture of smoking is not as prevalent in Kenya as in many other countries.”
Other new laws being put into effect this year by local officials in Nairobi include a ban on prostitution and a statute outlawing the solicitation of goods from street hawkers. James Wakiaga suggests that in conjunction with the capital’s new smoking ban, there is a serious effort to implement standards to improve the way things work.
“I think what you are looking at really is trying to have a more organized way of doing business. And hawkers, they do their work at designated places. Nairobi is a well-known capital city with very large numbers of international organizations, including the UN office (the UN Environment Program and the Habitat), which is the only UN office outside a developed country. Given the importance of Nairobi as a city, it’s important for us to maintain its high standards for it to be able to retain its status and also to be able to attract investors who want to put their money in Kenya,” he said.