Irrespective of persistent warning on the dangers inherent in all forms of tobacco products, more teenagers find pleasure indulging in the practice. In this report, some youths relate their experiences on how they started smoking and why they are hooked to the practice. IDAPO IDOWU and OLAMILEKAN SHONEYE report
“If I happen to die I want a stick of cigarette to be placed beside me in my grave so that I would be able to smoke it when I get to heaven.” These were the expression of a cigarette addict.
Smoking is defined as a practice in which a tobacco substance is burned and the resulting smoke breathed in and later absorbed into the bloodstream.
It has been shown to kill approximately half of long-term smokers when compared to average mortality rates faced by non-smokers.
Smoking caused over five million deaths a year from 1990 to 2015, according to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A New Telegraph investigations show that a lot of Nigerian youths have started smoking at a young age as early as fourteen years old. They started the practice for various reasons: to summon courage to hold a conversation with the opposite sex, to cope with depression, which is a way to temporarily distance themselves from their problems, among various reasons.
Another major reason for smoking is that they are were either forced or they wanted to do what their friends were doing.
Mr. Olalekan Olagunju, a 36 years old bus driver who lives in Mowe, Ogun State claims that he started smoking at an early age of 15 years.
Relating the background to his experience, Mr. Adeyemi Hassan, a welder from Ogun State said, “I started smoking a long time ago when I wanted to pursue a musical career. I was told that smoking would give me inspiration to come up with good and interesting lyrics and it would make me sing with a lot more charisma. Besides, all the known popular celebrity artistes smoke.”
When asked who told him that smoking gives people good inspiration, he said it was his friend with whom he pursued a musical career together.
When counseled to quit, he said it was not possible, adding that he enjoyed smoking, which he said has become a part of him.
Hassan said, “My friends led me into it. I was not forced; I just wanted to do what my friends were doing.”
In another experience, Kunle, a 26-year-old native of Oyo Town from Oyo State, who lives in the Mowe surburn of Ogun state, said that he smokes because it gives him confidence and makes him feel comfortable.
According to a commercial bus driver that smokes cigarettes and indian hemp as well, he started smoking when he was 18 years old.
When advised to quit smoking, he said, “I won’t be able to stop till the day I die because it is already a part of me.”
Mr. Tajudeeen, popularly known as Teejay, a native of Ijebu from Ogun State said, “I smoke ‘Indian Hemp’ every day before I go to work. Thereafter, I also smoke cigarettes.”
He claims that he works in an iron processing factory. “I believe that tobacco and hemp are good for my body and they make me perform my duties as quickly and as efficiently as possible. That is why I have to smoke both every day before I go to work.”
On why he started smoking, he replied:“I started smoking when I saw some people smoking and I was moved in my spirit to join them.
Despite high risks known to be accompanied with smoking, all of these seem to be ignored and disregarded by smokers. The Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) has warned that smokers were liable to die young and this warning could be seen on all the cigarette packets being sold to willing consumers all over the country.
Some of the reactions of smokers to the warning are: “It is a lie. I do not care about that warning and I do not believe it at all. I have been smoking since I was 18 years old and there is nothing wrong with me.
“There are a lot of people who are still older than me that are still smoking and as it is there is nothing wrong with them till this day.”
Smoking has become a way of life for many Nigerian youths despite the WHO warning that tobacco kills up to half of its users. Data from the Nigerian Tobacco Atlas 2015 reveals that every year, more than 16,100 Nigerians are killed by tobacco-related diseases.
Reacting to this development, the Deputy Director of Environmental Right Action (ERA), Mr Oluwafemi Akinbode said the tobacco companies have been focusing their business on Africa of which Nigeria is a major target because of its population.
According to him, regulations on tobacco use were still weak and taxes low. Besides, there wasn’t enough education about the harm of tobacco use. That is why there were many tobacco multinationals in Nigeria.
Akinbode said there was no recent data actually on the number of Nigerians that smoke, but the most current data puts it at 5.6 per cent and that itself is a conservative estimate. “If you look at 5.6 per cent in a population of 180 million people, you will see that it is huge.”
He said, “The Nigeria market is huge; that is why tobacco companies are moving in so that they can also increase the number of smokers in this country.”
However, the deputy director of ERA said tobacco was a product that could also harm people who are not smokers through their exposure to second hand smoking.
“If you do not smoke but stay around those who smoke or work in a restaurant or bar that is within area that people smoke, you are liable to exposure and tobacco related diseases like cancer, heart attack, among others.
So, while we are protecting smokers, we are also protecting our people who are passive smokers.
On the FMOH’s warning that ‘smokers were liable to die young, Akinbode said tobacco companies were not accepting liabilities. “The warning is a word of probability and is not exactly saying tobacco kills. It is giving the benefit of doubt and it is not “It is saying the FMOH says it, which means the tobacco companies putting it are saying “No, oh, look somebody in Abuja is ordering us to put this warning on our cigarette packs.”
However, he said now, agencies are working on warning messages that were short and simple. “We are asking relevant companies to change such messages to:
“Smoking kills,” “Smoking causes cancer”.
Also, Akinbode pointed out that the Nigeria population was made up of huge numbers of illiterate who could not read nor write, hence, the warning in English was not impactful.
Based on the fact that the poor and uneducated were the ones that smoke the most, Akinbode recommended that tobacco companies should put pictures, pictogram of tobacco causing diseases on the cigarette packs so that those who could not read could see exactly what cancer means and what impotence means when they are about to smoke.
He said different measures that have recently been introduced to check smoking include the National Tobacco Control in 2016 and the Federal Government’s ban on smoking in public places.
Similarly, Akinbode said it was illegal to sell cigarettes to under 18 years as well as selling them in single sticks.
According to him, the ERA has been working with government to increase taxes on cigarette products so that its prices could be beyond the reach of children and the poor who are made up of high number of smokers.
Sadly the performance of ban on smoking in public places has not been impressive, Akinbode lamented.
However, the deputy director of ERA pledged to continue to work with governments to ensure agencies saddled with those responsibilities were doing their work. “We are currently working with them in terms of creating mass education and it is a work in progress.
Basically tobacco kills, tobacco in whatever forms, be it smoking, be it shisha, water pipe, electric cigarette in whatever form is dangerous to health.
He said, “We should protect ourselves, we should protect our citizens and we need to educate our loved ones and most especially, we also need to periodically review our loss because tobacco companies are very innovative in their market strategies.
“Tobacco causes cancer, impotence, hypertension, among others.
“So, our message is that Nigerians and the Nigeria Government should work very hard to ensure that we begin to reduce tobacco use and related products.”
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