Are Cigarettes Smokers Liable Under the NESREA (Establishment) Act, 2007?
Have you ever wondered if the air you breathe is clean? We have often heard of the phrase “smokers are liable to die young”, while this is true; it is quite disheartening that smokers are willing to put their lives in danger. But, what is more disturbing is putting the lives of people around them in danger too. It is undeniably true that cigarette smoking causes environmental pollution by releasing toxic air pollutants in the atmosphere.
An important question to ask is that ‘does a human conduct become criminal because it results into harm to members of society?’
Medical News Today, a popular blog in the UK published on August 25, 2004 that cigarette smoke produces ten times more air pollution than diesel car exhaust. You can imagine the harm done to the lungs, eyes, throats and even the immunity system by just inhaling the harmful toxin exposed to the environment which is detrimental to human health. This is even worse for people who have asthma; it can trigger their attack and intensify their symptoms.
In answer to the above question; It is affirmative that cigarette smoking done in a way or place where people are likely to inhale and become exposed to toxic air is criminal because it may result to harm to them.
The World Health Organisation reported that Nigeria has a mortality rate for air pollution of 307.4 for every 100,000 people. The Air pollution caused by smoking in Nigeria remains dangerously high and as little as it may seem, cigarette smoking is doing a lot of harm to people. Nigeria has not taken adequate steps to control public exposure to the toxic air hanging around the country.
How does cigarette smoking constitute an environmental crime?
In a book titled ‘Landmarks in legal development: Essays in honor of Justice C.A.R Momoh (Honorable Chief Judge of Edo State)’ edited by A.D Badaiki. An environmental crime may be defined to be any act done in violation of those duties which an individual owes to the community in relation to his environment, and for the breach of which the law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public.
If one is to agree with this definition, it goes in harmony with the definition of crime under section 2 of the Criminal Code Act which defines crime as acts or omission
which render the person doing the act or making the omission liable to punishment under this Code or under any Act or Law.
Negligence or recklessness seems to be a statutory intent that may be used for an aggrieved party. A smoker should know well the consequences of his actions.
Smokes from the burning of solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking in open fire are not left out as they all constitutes the element of Air Pollution. Needless to say, Air pollutions remains a can of worms in the cause of a wide range of disease ranging from lung cancer, heart problems and even unborn babies are not safe from the pollution caused by smoke.
In Nigeria, the principal law regulating environmental crimes is the NATONAL ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (ESTABLISHMENT) ACT, 2007
The NESREA ACT has provided sanctions for people who contribute to the release of various harmful toxins in the country.
Section 27.-(1) of the Act provides ‘that the discharge in such harmful quantities of any hazardous substance into the air or upon the land and the waters of Nigeria or at the adjoining shorelines is prohibited, except where such discharge is permitted or authorized under any law in force in Nigeria. The Act goes ahead in to provide penalty for breach.
Section 27(2) A person who violates the provisions of subsection (1) of this Section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to a fine, not exceeding N 1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.
The Act has made a beautiful provision to those who feel their right to live in a clean environment and breathe clean air is breached to seek redress in a court of law.
From the foregoing, cigarette smokers are not exempted from liability caused when there is a discharge of harmful quantities of hazardous substances emanating from pollution caused by them. In essence, cigarette smokers need to be more careful as to where they smoke to avoid liability.
In conclusion, it is my suggestion that the ministry of environment should be proactive in making citizens comply with the various environmental laws in place. Statistics should be put and published on environmental crimes and measures should be taken to educate Nigerians on the need to safeguard the environment from relative threats.
Zainab Ibrahim Fatika is a legal practitioner. She is an indigene of Kaduna State and practices law at Kano State, Nigeria. She finished from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School where she graduated with a Second Class (Upper Division).