The World commemorated World Cancer Day on the 4th of February as is the norm each year, the commemoration ran under the theme "We can, I can" and that theme alone makes a lot of sense because surely collectively We can reduce cancer related illness and subsequently cancer related deaths.
What is however worrying is the way that these themes are often crafted and put up on banners t-shirts posters,pamphlets and other media without seriously considering ways of reducing cancer.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care leads serious campaigns to raise awareness among the people of Zimbabwe with regards cancer and all other notable diseases but are they doing enough?
The answer to that question in my view is NO, there is a lot that can be done just to prevent cancer or reduce new cases of cancer in Zimbabwe especially those cancer cases caused commonly through tobacco use which in most cases affect most Zimbabweans apart from HIV and AIDS related cancers.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) tobacco use kills about 4.9 Million people globally, 22% of cases were reported in Africa .Given that, it is pertinent for those responsible for policy making to lobby and introduce new means of reducing tobacco related cancers and deaths through strict laws on tobacco use.
Zimbabwe is a country whose economy is dependent partly on agricultural production with tobacco exports being a lead contribution to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Several countries buy the popular Golden Leaf for cigarette production in their own countries one of the countries that is a major buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco is China which buys millions of kilograms of it.
However in China unlike Zimbabwe there are strict laws that govern Tobacco smoking and such laws are what should be considered by the government of Zimbabwe if reduction of tobacco related illnesses is to be achieved.
The use of tobacco has been linked to several types of cancers which include bladder cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, liver, prostate cancer, lung cancer and many other types of cancer.
What is important going forward for Zimbabwe to reduce the burden of cancer is to implement a number of measures which should be put in place as law as is the case in some more health conscious countries.Banning public smoking of tobacco could be the first step, the fact that smokers can smoke as and when they please puts even more people at risk of cancer .
It must be noted that in post independent Zimbabwe such efforts have been made but they remain insufficient to reduce cancer cases caused by tobacco for example people used to smoke in banking halls and were even provided with accessories such as cigarette lighters and ash trays this was also the case in public transport and other facilities.
Zimbabwe needs to ban the smoking of cigarettes in all public places, this should include a ban on street smoking, bottle store,bar or night club smoking.
A lot of passive or secondary smoking affects non smokers and therefore smoking cubicles/booths and designated smoking zones should be introduced and be strictly used by smokers.This way there is assurance that non smokers are safe from any tobacco related harm.
In neighboring Zambia is an effective anti public smoking policy is in place , anyone caught smoking in public is fined for doing so in undesginated areas, as a result a significant number of people have ended up quitting smoking because of such effective policies which seem to put pressure on the smoker to deal with the urge to smoke and eventually quit smoking.
Access to tobacco cigarettes in Zimbabwe is very easy, one can buy cigarettes from vendors on the streets where not even age restriction of the buyer is an issue.
On that note government needs to ban street vending of cigarettes to reduce accessibility to the product. Supermarkets and other retailers need to strictly enforce age restriction requirements, though there are such laws in place already in Zimbabwe it is the implementation that is non existent.
The pricing system of tobacco in Zimbabwe is one other component that has seen many people easily indulge in smoking, the cheapest packet of cigarettes costs $0.85 for a pack of 10 cigarettes while a pack of 20 cigarettes costs smokers between $1.00 and $2.00 depending on the brand, that effectively makes cigarettes more accessible to smokers as they are more affordable even to the most ordinary low income earner.Vendors on the streets sell single cigarettes for as little as $0.05 with the most expensive single cigarette of any brand selling at $0.10 this means it becomes easy for a smoker to access cigarettes even with a very small amount of money.
To deal with this government should ban single cigarette sells,this again helps in lowering tobacco consumption.
Meanwhile in the United States of America a pack of 20 cigarettes costs $13.00,that price alone makes smoking not so affordable and will most likely encourage many to quit .
The cost of buying cigarettes must be made prohibitive if cases of cancer are to be reduced, the higher the costs the lesser the interest in smoking .Most people would rather fight the addiction than continuously spend large amounts of money annually on cigarettes.
On the other hand tobacco quitting therapeutic products such as Nicotine gums, nicotine patches are either not accessible to the ordinary Zimbabwean or are too expensive to purchase.Any form of tobacco quitting aides normally costs 20 times the price of a packet of cigarettes.
This effectively makes it too expensive for a low income Nicotine dependent individual who may wish to quit smoking as a result of dependency on nicotine the individual may end up not considering quitting smoking.
The other aspect that contributes to high tobacco consumption /use is the advertising of tobacco products. In Zimbabwe big tobacco companies invests a lot of money on billboards, cigarette stands in supermarkets and convenient stores etc.The kind of advertising encourages continued smoking and even recruitment of new smokers.
In some first world countries they have enforced a new way of packaging which emphasizes the need for big tobacco firms to show human body parts affected by smoking on each packet in a bid to raise awareness to smokers and would be smokers. Such packaging instead of the colorful well branded packaging should equally be adopted by any nation whose intention is to reduce or even eradicate Cancers caused by tobacco use.
In a few months time the World commemorates World No Tobacco Day. How do we commemorate that day when we are very much a tobacco consuming nation with no strict laws against tobacco use?
Zimbabwe seriously needs to consider consumption of tobacco products as an area that needs policy shift and due consideration.
We Can fight cancer, I can fight cancer, together we can fight it.
Setfree N Mafukidze is a Registered General Nurse and Health Promoter