Beware: Tobacco kills children

IN Tanzania, apart from indulging in tobacco smoking, some children are involved in tobacco processing, especially in Urambo tobacco f arms in Tabora Region work in small-scale family farms.

Invariably, these children are also ex posed to health hazards.

Tobacco handling, which involves harvesting, curing, drying, packing and transporting, always ex poses workers, who include children, to serious health risks.

Children working in plantations or those who help out in family farms contract life-threatening illnesses.

In fact, children are exposed to health hazards brought on by tobacco smoke even before they are born.

Pregnant women who smoke tobacco risk generating ectopic pregnancy (featus located outside the placenta), or rupturing of the placenta (abruption placenta).

Women smokers also risk giving birth prematurely or bringing f orth, underweight babies or even stillborns.

Sometimes, smoking women bear children with cleft lips (split lips), or tiny legs. Sudden infant death syndrome is also common in children aged under a year.

Smoking is also on record for crippling the limbs of infants or impairing their mental state.

Lactating mothers who smoke wreck the health of their infants in many ways.

Respiratory complications, infected ears, laboured breathing and peptic ulcers are likely to occur.

Children are also likely to get pneumonia and other respiratory problems if they live in an environment that is filled with smoke, including food curing smoke.

Children, however, are particularly at greater risk when exposed to tobacco smoke.

P arents who smoke expose their children to a very hostile environment. Coughs, colds, pneumonia, tuberculosis and others are nasty health hazards for both children and adults.

Coughs and colds spread easily especially in overcrowded areas.

People with coughs or colds should avoid coughing, sneezing or spitting near children.

Sometimes, coughs and colds are signs of more serious problems.

A child who is breathing rapidly or with difficulty might have pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

Recent research has shown that nearly ten per cent of students smoke cigarettes in schools.

Cigarettes expose smokers to 90 per cent of all known cancers.

The numerous ailments also include respiratory complications, stroke, emphysema and bronchitis.

The frightening list also includes eschaemic heart diseases, high blood pressure and impotence.

Other health problems associated with tobacco use include loss of sight, skin wrinkles and smelly breath. The list is not over yet.

It also includes ugly face, hypertension, infarction, and an array of cancers that include lung cancer; colorecrtal cancer, mouth cancer, cervix cancer and throat cancer.

In fact, handling and processing tobacco leaves is as detrimental to health as smoking any kind of tobacco preparation, including cigarettes and snuff.

So, children who work in tobacco farms, sometimes along their parents, imperil their lives.

These hapless children should be rescued.

Some of the health complications that emanate from tobacco f arming, processing and consumption are sources of respiratory infections that take many lives in this country.

As if this is not critical enough, smokers often pass respiratory problems to the nonsmokers around them through what is known as passive smoking.

In the same vein, parents who smoke near infants unwittingly put the children’s health at risk.

Even a spouse who smokes endangers his or her non-smoking partner.

It is common to see smokers puffing in crowded places, especially in the city of Dar es Salaam.

Some of the most notorious culprits puff in buses, hospitals, libraries, restaurants, bars, and banks.

Others smoke without a care in the world in government offices, sometimes in front of signs that prohibit the habit.

Many smokers are aware that puffing in public or crowded places is restricted by law and is punishable.

But, most of them are dare-devils who do not give a damn about harming other people’s health.

But there is another canker that is even more worrisome--no law bans the growing, processing of tobacco products or the manufacture of cigarettes in this country.

In fact, the population of cigarette smokers in Tanzania is so big that cigarettes are money-spinners. It is big-time business.

Traders make q uite a roaring business in tobacco products and the state earn billions from the cigarette industry.

However, the government has made it a rule of thumb to have a warning note posted on every cigarette saying that it has been determined that “cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.”

The same advert is displayed on cigarette packs and is designed to warn 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 f or tobacco companies to warn consumers of their products on underlying dangers of smoking.

A few years ago, lawmakers and members of the public generally, were told that smoking in public places was punishable by law.

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.

So, in this country, smoking is restricted in hospitals and other health facilities; public libraries; churches, mosq ues and other places of worship, in planes, trains, buses, ships and other facilities for travel, assembly halls, markets, shops and other similar places.

Anyone infringing the law is liable to a fine not exceeding 500,000/-or a jail term not exceeding three years or both.

Whoever will be affected by cigarette smoke at a public place has the right to institute litigation in a court of law.

Other anti-smoking efforts have seen the Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum (TTCF) urging the government to introduce alternative cash crops in tobacco growing areas because tobacco growers encountered more health hazards than direct benefits from their work.

Tobacco growers, handlers and smokers were exposed to dozens of ailments most of which are fatal.

Although tobacco is a money-spinner when it came to export earnings, the national income from the crop does not trickle down to the growers.

It is imperative to point out at this juncture that cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 deadly chemicals, 6 0 of which cause a variety of cancers.

The chemicals include acetone, arsenic, butane, cadmium, carbon monoxide, methanol and nicotine.

Others are phenol, toluene and hydrogen cyanide.

World Health Organization (WHO), statistics show that tobacco kills more than eight million people each year.

More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use.

The WHO figures also indicate that around one million deaths are the result of non-smokers being ex posed to second-hand smoke.

It is also on record that around 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low income and middle income countries.

So, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people a year mostly in countries where the burden of tobacco-related illnesses and death is heaviest.

Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of healthcare and hinder economic development.

Children from poor households are often employed in tobacco f arming to provide family income.

These children are especially vulnerable to “green tobacco sickness” , which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.

Second-hand smoke (or passive smoking), is the smoke that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes and pipes.

As mentioned before, there are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke.

Parents should be aware that at least 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmf ul and that more than 60 are known to cause cancer.

Indeed, it is imperative to keep children away from all forms of tobacco smoke and tobacco leaves.

In Tanzania and other low and middle income countries almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places.

Parents should be aware that second-hand smoke causes more than a million premature deaths per year.

Some of the victims are children whose parents smoke unwittingly.

In fact, 65,000 children die each year from illnesses attributable to second-hand smoke.

Studies show that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use.

For example, a 2009 survey in China revealed that only 38 percent of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27 percent knew that it causes stroke.

It has been determined that hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings– especially those that include pictures–reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who q uit.

Graphic warnings can persuade smokers to protect the health of non-smokers by smoking less inside the home and avoiding smoking near children.

However, this approach does not seem to have much impact in Tanzania where most smokers are men.

Studies carried out after the implementation of pictorial package warnings in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand consistently show that pictorial warnings significantly increase people’s awareness of the harms of tobacco use.


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