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Friday, July 29, 2011

Smoking: Costly habit, captive addicts

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared smoking injurious to health but smokers are still puffing away. OSEYIZA OOGBODO takes a look into this highly addictive practice and its attending dangers.
Smoking for a long time has donned a toga of controversy as to its religious, social, economic and health implications. But, some time ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) ruled: smoking is injurious to health.

Regardless of this development and the attending compliance at tobacco smoking reduction practically the world over, Nigeria’s case is peculiar: her residents keep smoking in both designated and undesignated areas as if unaware of the WHO proclamation. Betty Abah, an anti-smoking advocate, who is a member of the tobacco control team of the NGO, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) confirms that Nigerian smoking is actually on the increase. “According to the World Health Organisation’s global report two years ago, tobacco use is on the increase in the country especially among young women. It’s not to say women smoke more here, but it implies that more and more women are taking up the habit. It is especially so in tertiary institutions, which is a sad case because the impact of tobacco on the female body is faster and even more deadly than on their male counterparts.”

Getting cigarettes in Nigeria is very easy since they are available on virtually every street through those who have stalls and sitting areas for their cigarette purchasers who want to smoke right at the point of purchase. There are also beer parlours, general goods traders and traditional liquor sellers who offer the popular cigarette brands. Those who are in a hurry smoke while walking along the street. Funny enough, there is a Nigerian law that bans smoking in public places just like in most countries across the world. But it doesn’t seem effective going by the volume of public smoking.

Abah sheds light on the law. “Yes, the law is embedded in the new National Tobacco Control Bill. Public places are supposed to be smoke-free so as to safe-guard the health of non-smokers and also to reduce the general smoking rate. And, by public places, we mean places like restaurants, schools, airports, offices, any enclosed place where people gather. Public places in this context are not roadsides, streets or highways. However, the bill is awaiting Presidential Assent to make it a legal law.”

But even as smoking is rampant, be it in the day or night, there is a method to it. Men can smoke publicly anywhere they like during the day. It is however very difficult to see women smoking publicly in the daytime. But it is not as if they too don’t smoke in the daytime, but they do so in seclusion. For instance, at an event recently, a popular female fashion designer who needed to smoke her favourite brand of cigarette had to hide in a toilet to do so while men smoked care freely in the lobby in full public view. Yet, many of the smokers can’t do so in front of their parents, bosses, landlords and people they look up to because the Nigerian society frowns heavily on smoking. Once a person is known as a smoker, he is most times labelled a doubtful character, hence not taken seriously and treated with condescension. So if a man sometimes faces tribulation because he smokes, a woman who is known to smoke will face quite a tougher time of stigmatisation.

Such is the danger smoking is that it is clearly stated on cigarette packs that smokers are liable to die young. And death is what most humans fear most. If most humans had a choice, they wouldn’t want to die. But some of these same humans prefer to smoke even when they had been warned that smoking could kill them. As smoking is a terrible hazard to smokers themselves, the threat of second hand smoke (non-smokers inhaling cigarette smoke) is probably what is making experts make concrete moves to enforce a ban on smoking in public places. But as a matter of courtesy, people don’t really complain when they see people smoking even when the smell irritates them.

At a press conference to mark the 2008 World Heart Day, Prof. Ayodele Omotoso and Prof. Wale Oke, said, “Government should as a matter of urgency prohibit the habit of smoking in public places as cardiovascular experts have discovered effect of smoking is more harmful to non-smokers than actual smokers.” The issue of smoking is a very strange one, to say the least. Oluwagbohunmi Balogun, a committed chain smoker, says, “I love smoking. I can say I love it more than any other thing on earth.” He however concurs that “I never knew I would be a smoker, though. It is not something I can say that I planned to do. Somehow, it happened and I’m in love with it now.

“That I’m smoking sometimes makes me laugh when I think back to when I was in secondary school. I was a boarder and my seniors who used to smoke would send me to buy cigarettes and say I should smoke with them. Back then, I always refused, because if I had accepted, they would have taken me to the Senior Prefect and reported me that I was smoking and he would have punished me.” Balogun had a further funny tale to recount. “What’s even surprising to me again is that my friends and I who refused to smoke then in boarding school all met up later and we had all started smoking without anyone forcing us the way our seniors were doing but we were scared then so as not to become known as smokers by our teachers and the entire school.”

Such is Balogun’s addiction to smoking a particular brand that he complains if such is presented to him in the pack of another. “It affects the taste,” was his explanation. “Maybe it’s because I don’t smoke any other brand.” Even as Balogun is proud of his smoking habit, Peter, a bass guitarist, regrets his brief romance with smoking. “I used to smoke a lot. Then when I began coughing out white portions of my innards, I knew I had to stop or die. I stopped, but it wasn’t easy, though. I kept returning to it until God took control finally.”


Like Peter, Jare Ayo-Martins, co-presenter/ producer of popular Yoruba TV magazine programme, Owuro Lawa, is also an ex-smoker. “I started smoking when I was in my teens. I began smoking due to peer group pressure.” However, after 12 years of smoking, Ayo-Martins stopped. “I stopped because it wasn’t doing me any good.” When Saturday Mirror asked him if it was perhaps affecting his health, he refuted it, and then added, “The anti-smoking sensitization campaigns also made me realize the need to stop.” He however admitted that he wasn’t a chain smoker. “I was just a normal smoker. The most I ever smoked in a day was four sticks. I never smoked a pack in a day.” Now, Ayo-Martins says of smoking: “It doesn’t do any good, so smokers should stop, but it’s difficult to stop.”