Smoking: A growing health hazard


HEALTH complications wrought by tobacco smoking in Tanzania and elsewhere vary from life-threatening pneumonia in children to outright impotence in men. More dangerous narcotic drugs are also prevalent in Tanzania, where more and more young people pick up the habit. On the global front, during the past decade, tobacco leaf production has shifted from high-income countries to developing countries, particularly those in Africa.

Most African governments promote tobacco farming as a way to alleviate poverty. The economic benefit of tobacco farming has been used by the tobacco industry to block tobacco control policies. The tobacco industry is active in promoting the alleged positive aspects of tobacco farming. This includes “protecting” farmers from what they portray as unfair tobacco control regulations that reduce demand.

In fact, tobacco farming has many negative consequences for the health and wellbeing of farmers. In a recent study in the Tabora region of Tanzania, the main tobacco producing region of the country, researchers conducted a comparative analysis of the technical efficiency of smallholder tobacco farmers and maize farmers. The market value per unit of tobacco leaf is three times higher than that of maize in this country.

The picture is however reversed when the cost of inputs, such as labor are included. Maize farmers have two crops per year as opposed to one for tobacco. A wide range of tobacco preparations including snuff (ugoro) and varieties of crude homemade cigarettes are readily available in all sorts of shopping outlets. The diabolical habit is a growing health hazard and, indeed, a social menace.

Marunde Madanga, a 55-year-old peasant from Chilonwa Village in Dodoma Rural District, who came into the city of Dar es Salaam to beg recently, says he took up tobacco smoking nearly 20 years ago. He admits with resentment that tobacco is so addictive that most abusers fail to kick the habit. He says a friend with who he tended cattle introduced him to tobacco smoking.

Initially, he says, he found it difficult to inhale the smoke that appeared to assail not only his chest and lungs but his nostrils too. What he was smoking was crushed, sun-dried tobacco leaves rolled in paper. Twenty years down the road, today, Madanga can no longer kick the habit. In fact, apart from smoking raw tobacco, he sniffs snuff as well. He tucks some of it inside his lower lip, a practice that increased the foul smell that invariably emanates from his mouth A medical doctor in a private hospital in the city, who prefers anonymity,

says that health complications, especially respiratory impairments, take many lives many lives in this country. He says not many women smoke here but his hospital has had to deal with several critical cases. He says smokers sometimes pass problems to non-smokers around them through what is known as passive smoking and that parents who smoke near infants unwittingly put the child’s health at risk.

He also says a spouse who smokes endangers his or her non-smoking partner. It is common to see smokers puffing in crowded places in Dodoma Region. Smokers often puff in busses, hospitals, libraries, restaurants, bars, and banks and even in government offices, sometimes in front of signs that prohibit the habit. But smoking in public or crowded places is restricted by law and is punishable. Unfortunately, no law bans the manufacture of cigarettes in this country.

The population of cigaratte smokers in this country, and indeed, anywhere else around the world, is so big that cigarettes are money-spinners. The government earns billions from the cigarette industry and imports. But the government has a good rule of thumb that requires warning signs posted on each cigarette advertisement saying it has been determined that “cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.”

The same advert is displayed on cigarrete packs and is designed to warn smokers and potential smokers against the habit. But the advert does not seem to have much impact on the fraternity of smokers. One reason is that smoking takes its tall after twenty or more years. So, the law makes it imperative for tobacco companies to warn consumers of their products on underlying dangers of smoking.

A former Minister for Health, Mr Hussein Mwinyi, told the National Assembly a few years ago that smoking in public places is a crime. He said that the law that deters smoking in public is designed to protect minors and adults who do not smoke against the health complications that are wrought by smoking. The law also seeks to achieve the highest safety standards in cigarettes.

Children are most affected by passive smoking. Children are more likely to get pneumonia and other breathing problems if they live in an environment that is filled with smoke. They are particularly at greater risk when exposed to smoke from tobacco or even cooking fires. Their problem is compounded when born to smoking parents. Parents who smoke expose their children to a hostile environment. Paediatricians say that a child who is breathing rapidly or with difficulty might have pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

Pneumonia is a life-threatening disease. If it is determined that your child has pneumonia, rush him to hospital immediately. Smoking is restricted in hospitals, dispensaries and other health centers; public libraries; churches, mosques and other places of worship, in planes, trains, buses, ships and other facilities for travel; assembly halls, markets, shops and other places.

Mr Mwinyi said that anyone infringing the law would be liable to a fine not exceeding 500,000/- or a jail term not exceeding three years or both fine and jail term. He said whoever will be affected by cigarette smoke at a public place has the right to institute litigation in a court of law. Tanzania also has a huge narcotic drug trafficking and abuse problem.

The world of narcotic drugs is world is a world of hallucination, loss of memory and violence according to medical parlance. It is a world of lunatics, mad gangsters, scarlet prostitutes and devil-may-care outlaws. Drug abuse is a sticky worldwide problem. In Tanzania the problem is considered to be in its nascent stage but it is growing. Already, it has posed a stiff challenge for law enforcement agents and society.

The widespread abuse of drugs has become a human tragedy. Drugs entice, captivate and ultimately destroy addicts from all walks of life. The devastating effects of drug abuse on a family pose the greatest threat to society. The habit causes disruption and disharmony within the family and everyone suffers. The worst aspect of the drug trade is that it makes its deepest impression on those who are most vulnerable - the youth, according to psychiatrists.

The use of drugs has strong appeal to naïve youths who are just beginning their struggle for independence from family bonds. Because of their innate curiosity and thirst for new experiences, the young, especially those living in towns and cities, are particularly susceptible to the “drug experience.”

Developing countries such as Tanzania have already learned, much to their sorrow, that drug abuse is no longer confined to the youths of the West. One youth, Marunde Wande, said with pride recently that narcotic drugs cushion him against the pangs of hunger, mental anguish and other worldly hardships.

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