Business regulation has been on for a long time. Since colonial times, government has regulated business. The need for more responsive and effective business regulation was one of the reasons for the fight for independence in the US. As the U.S. economy became more industrialized and the United States grew to be a world power in the nineteenth century, the federal government passed business laws that favored social reforms over the interests of big business.
More recently, in the twentieth century, government’s involvement continued to expand until the 1970s, when both business and the public began to call for less regulation.
No doubt one of the most regulated industries in the business world is the tobacco business. The products marketed by the industry can be dangerous to the health no doubt. This is one of the reasons why the industry has been looked at critically by governments and its regulatory organs.
The tobacco industry has been regulated from many fronts, either through tax increases, marketing restrictions, prohibitions of use, and many other regulatory interventions.
The British Parliament in 2006 passed a legislation to ban smoking in all public places including pubs, bars, workplaces and clubs, with effect from the summer of 2007. This move was made, even though a research by Populus, for the group, FOREST proved that it was not necessarily the will of the people.
In the Populus poll, the firm interviewed a random sample of 1,170 people across the UK by telephone between 12 and 14 August 2005. Results were weighted to be representative of all adults. 29 percent were in favour of continuing the voluntary approach, with employers asked but not forced to make more places smoke-free, 28 percent opt for an outright ban with no exemptions, 23 percent want to see powers devolved to local authorities, 18 percent favour the government’s proposal to make all public places smoke free except for membership clubs and pubs that do not serve food. Of the respondents, 22 percent of the sample smokes daily, 6 percent occasionally. 22 percent are ex-smokers, while 49 percent have never smoked. These rates accord with smoking prevalence rates for the UK as a whole.
Simon Clark, director of FOREST, said: “The poll shows there is no enthusiasm for a total ban on smoking in all public places. While people are unenthusiastic about the government’s proposals, they are even less in favour of a blanket ban, especially in pubs. This is consistent with all previous surveys in which people have been offered a choice of smoking and non-smoking facilities and better ventilation.” The result of this poll is turning out to be very instructive, if the current consumption rates are anything to go by. If nothing else, it would have prompted the British Parliament to consider the legislation more seriously.
The ban that was put in place about a year and a half has not reduced the smoking rate in England, it has been reported. The report was a result of the survey of about 7,000 people. It was found out that in men aged 16-34, the number rose by one and a half cigarettes a day. Also revealed is the fact that the number of cigarettes consumed by working class men have gone up. This is paradoxical because one of the main thrusts of the tobacco ban was to reduce cigarette consumption among the poor.
Liberal Democrat, Norman Lamb revealed, “These are pretty stark figures which demonstrate forcefully that the government’s strategy on smoking has not been successful. It is yet another case of government pursuing eye-catching initiatives which in the end don’t succeed in tackling the real problem.”
Why will legislation, designed to reduce the incidence of smoking, not have the desired impact in a society where law enforcement has not really been in question? A report by the Lord’s Economic Affairs Committee seems to shed some light on something pretty interesting. The report has accused the Government of hasty reactions to scare stories about health and that the government was slack in weighing the risks.
The committee disputed a principle underlying the work of the Health and Safety Executive: that society has greater aversion to an accident killing ten people than to ten accidents killing one person each, and that safety spending should be allocated accordingly. The committee cited the smoking ban as an example of a policy based on bad science, it having been sold to the public as necessary because of the apparent dangers of smoking.
Committee members questioned whether the Government had a scientific basis for the claim after Caroline Flint, the Health Minister, told the committee: “In relation to deaths from smoking and second-hand smoke, the most serious aspect is smoking in the home. Ninety-five per cent of deaths are related to smoking in the home.”
The committee heard that the “main risk” over passive smoking concerned children who are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home — which the Bill was not designed to address. The report said: “It may be that the unstated objective of policy is to encourage a reduction in active smoking by indirect means. This may well be a desirable policy objective, but if it is the objective it should have been clearly stated.” What a reversal!
Industries and businesses need to be regulated but where regulations are uninformed and lack the necessary inputs to make sure that they achieve their aims, then some questions should be asked.
In Nigeria, the Tobacco industry, and other industries like Aviation and Telecommunications have been seriously looked at by regulatory bodies.
The Senate in Nigeria seeks to pass the anti-tobacco bill. While it is fine for the Senate to do its job, as electorates, we have a duty to comment on some of the activities as they unfold. Have they carried out their findings to ensure that the slur in the British legislation? Will the provisions in the bill actually reduce the consumption of cigarettes? With the thinning of walls and borders, we have seen that social behaviours now tend to follow the ‘Domino’ way – where one behaviour precipitates other similar behaviours. Are we sure we have a clearly defined objective or are we just going the way of the other members of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control? Are our legislators standing from a position of adequate information? After all these said and done, what will the end be?
All of these questions if well answered will prevent policy somersaults, an albatross of successive governments in Nigeria.
Emeka Anichebe, writes from Independence Layout, Enugu.
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