Smoking is arguably one of the deadliest habits one can indulge in, yet millions more smokers get sucked into it each passing year, a period during which, says WHO, 7.2 million across the world die of tobacco-linked health complications, including lung cancer.
Today, May 31, health stakeholders in Tanzania join their counterparts across the globe to mark the World No Tobacco Day, whose theme this year is "Tobacco - a threat to development." Under the theme, governments and the public are advised on measures that they should take to promote health and development by confronting tobacco farming and smoking.
Tobacco companies continue to non-smokers to take up the habit and those who are in it, to maintain it, applying gimmicks that give the impression smoking is a greatly fashionable idea. They use beautiful packaging, adverts on TV and billboards featuring good looking men and beautiful women together. Young people are hoodwinked into believing that if one smokes, one is certain to increase their appeal to member of the opposite sex, become more intelligent and even successful--in whatever way!
A 2015 study, carried out by five researchers under the auspices of the Department of Economics, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania School of Public Health and University of California, shows that slightly over 15 per cent of Tanzanians smoke with low variability across income groups. Smoking intensity and per capita consumption were estimated at 7.08 cigarettes and 1.33 cigarettes, respectively.
There are arguments that tobacco farming is a source of direct and indirect income for our farmers, not to mention of the tax revenue that goes to government coffers, paid by tobacco processing companies. This solace, however, is negated by the fact that much more money is spent on treating cases of those who have been adversely affected by tobacco use.
What is more, smoking doesn't only affect those who are into the habit; those who stay near them are affected too. Such are victims of what is called passive smoking.
To control the diseases and deaths emanating from tobacco consumption, the government needs to introduce effective tobacco control measures. Tanzania signed a pact to control tobacco production and cigarette consumption in 2007.
It is in this regard that Tanzania enacted a law dubbed 'Tobacco Products (Regulation) Act 2003' which makes it an offence to smoke inside public transport, hospitals, schools and any other public place. The law also forbids the selling of tobacco products to anyone under 18.
The good law notwithstanding, smoking in public is still common, especially in drinking establishments and open air places where people find themselves mingling like bus stands and markets. Few, if any, workplaces and recreation spots in Tanzania, have set aside areas for smokers, despite a government call to that effect. It has not been established whether government offices have taken such a measure, which could explain why law enforcers have chosen to close their eyes as people smoke anywhere!
It is, however, heartening that smoking indoors in offices, homes and public transport has become a thing of the past in Tanzania. It means, anti-tobacco sensitisation has worked to some extent.
The campaign, however, must be sustained and that, we add, should include finding alternative cash crop to tobacco farming, a livelihood source to thousands of Tanzanians.