22 December 2000

Nigeria: Here Is The Killer

Lagos — In twenty years' time smoking will be the number one killer disease World-wide. A World Health Organisation, WHO report says, "smoking would by the year 2020 be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the world, ahead of HIV, tuberculosis, suicide and homicide."

There are 1.1 billion smokers world-wide, 800 million of whom live in the developing countries. Tim Menakaya, Nigeria's minister of health, said last year during the "World No-Tobacco Day" celebration in Lagos that about 3.5 million people lose their lives annually to smoking.

Menakaya said statistics from the federal ministry of health indicates that about 4.2 million smokers are in Nigeria. About 77 percent of them are classified as heavy smokers.

Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco manufacturer, admitted that tobacco causes lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease.

Smoking, according to medical experts is associated with cancers of the mouth, pharynx larynx, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, cervix, ureter and bladder. Smoking also increases the risk of heart diseases, such as heart attack, vascular disease and stroke.

The British Medical Association and the Campaign Group Action on smoking and health warned that smoking could also cause impotence. In a report published last year, the BMA said the repeated inability to maintain an erection affected an estimated four percent of the two million men in Britain between the ages of 21 and 75. It said up to 120,000 of the cases were a direct result of smoking.

A study carried out by scientists from Boston University also showed that cigarette smoking could lead to the shrinking of the male organ.

Umaru Shehu, a professor of medicine had also warned that each stick of cigarette reduces the life-span of the smoker by five and a half days.

Annette Akinsete, a consultant on non-communicable disease control programme of the federal ministry of health said that about four million people world-wide die from tobacco-related diseases each year. She said that tobacco had become a major cause of sudden death from heart attacks or strokes.

Deji Femi Pearse, former provost, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, UNILAG, said cigarette contains several cancer forming agents and irritants capable of causing chronic cough. He said these agents could destroy air passage in the body leading to cancers of the lungs, larynx, oval cavity and the bladder. Pearse said cigarette smoke consisted of three major components which are harmful to health. These, he said, included carbon monoxide, tar, and nicotine. He said carbon monoxide robs the smoker of his fitness because it reduces his exercise tolerance. He pointed out that exposure to carbon monoxide might also result in the deposit of fat in the lining of the blood vessels. This, he said, could hinder blood flow to the heart and the tissues thereby causing the clogging of the vessels of the heart and the brain. He said this could result in high blood pressure, stroke and a paralysis of the arm and leg.

Pearse said tar destroys the lung elasticity and gases and also contains hundreds of carcinogens-cancer causing agents. He said that women smokers might have premature and lower weight baby and placenta prairies. Nicotine, he said, is responsible for the insatiable craving for cigarette. "Nicotine narrows the blood vessels to the heart and the brain," he noted.

Some experts also attribute memory loss to smoking. They believe that nicotine reduces concentration and impairs long-term-memory. In fact, one medical report stated that "cigarette smoking hampers intellectual acquisition."

The report said that smoking produces an increased oxidative stress on the body and that the body's antioxidants are used up faster in smokers than in non- smokers. According to the report, smokers are also prone to various diseases as their body resistance is lowered as a result of smoking.

The report noted that quitting smoking would improve the smokers' moral and intellectual power. "Smokers who stop smoking would know true satisfaction and happiness; would enjoy better health and the blessings of God," it stated.

But many Nigerian smokers would hate to hear this. John Idowu, a transporter, attributed his smoking habit to a childhood interest he had for smokers. He said he used to admire his father smoke when he was a little boy. He said he grew up with a strong conviction that smokers were super-brats. Everybody around him smokes, he said. With the childhood experience, coupled with peer pressure, he eventually caved in to the persistent urge. He believes he had smoked to a point of no return. "Turning back from smoking should only be thought of in dreams," he said.

Idowu argued out that the anti-smoking campaigns by the government was a ruse because government knew it was making a huge amount of money as tax on the sale of the cigarettes.

Babatope Ajidahun, a motor-bike rider and a smoker, said anti-smoking campaigns are illusory. He believes that people die when it is their time to die. "We have so many young people that are not smokers dying daily of different ailments. I know I will die when my time comes to die whether I smoke or not. It has been destined," he argued.

Publication Date: December 25, 2000

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