Zimbabwe yesterday launched the commemorations of World No Tobacco Day and the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, joining the rest of the world in creating awareness on the dangers of tobacco and substance abuse in the country.
Every year, on May 31, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and global partners celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD).
The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is a United Nations international day against drug abuse and the illegal drug trade and has been observed annually on June 26, since 1989.
The campaigns present the country with an opportunity to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, alcohol and substance abuses.
Tobacco smoking seems to pose more danger to humanity as it also affects non-smokers and this year's focus is on "tobacco and lung health".
Statistics from the WHO show that tobacco smoking leads to 7 million deaths each year worldwide, including 890 000 of which are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Launching the two international campaigns, Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo said abuse of alcohol and substance abuse have destroyed many youths in the country.
"Abuse of substances such as marijuana, codeine-containing cough syrups and crystal methamphetamine are killing many of our people through injuries, road traffic accidents, violence and suicides.
"Most of the affected are young adults, studies show that some young people start to use alcohol and substances as early as 12 years of age in Zimbabwe. This significantly affects their productivity, disrupts their families and the progression of their lives.
"As we mark this year's WNTD combined with the International Day Against Drug Abuse we are appealing to the young people to make a pledge to walk away from substance abuse," says Dr Moyo.
The youths are the beacon of what to expect of tomorrow.
Renowned Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o once said: "If you want to know the tomorrow of a people, look in the eyes of the young. If you want to know their thinking tomorrow, read the minds of the young."
True to Dr Moyo's sentiments, the youths in most high-density suburbs in Harare and other cities portray a picture of a confused and hopeless society.
Instead of engaging in productive activities, most youths have developed a culture of abusing harmful drugs which include cannabis (marijuana) affectionately called "ganja" (a Jamaican word to describe the herb) and an addictive cough mixtures including BronCleer, popularly known as "Bronco".
Drug-mixed popcorn and buns have also become popular among the youths. The youths easily access them as they are sold at amounts as low as 50 cents and 75 cents.
Nowadays there is the popular illicit beer among the youths known as "musombodia".
Musombodia is pure ethanol which is diluted with water for sale to beer lovers and has proved to be a favourite among the youth and the elderly because it is very cheap.
This practice that mostly youths from high-density suburbs have adopted is widely believed to have been influenced by music.
Although music is used for positive growth in some areas, other genres send a negative message to the youths.
Local youths have been impacted negatively by Jamaican dancehall artistes, especially the likes of Vybz Kartel, born Adidja Palmer, most of whose songs are about drugs, violence, guns, sex and other things that children do not need to hear about.
The popular music genre, Zim dancehall, is not spared as some of its lyrical content glorifies the use of marijuana and cough syrups like Bronco and Histalix.
It is widely accepted that youths are significantly influenced by music icons and Zim dancehall artistes are no exception.
The artistes sing songs about "kustika", "kubatwa", and "kushamira" (opening the mouth wide in order to pour the liquid drug), and when the youths hear these, they start mimicking that behaviour and cause problems with parents and teachers.
Studies show that youths who indulge in substance abuse also have a tendency to partake in high risk activities, self-abuse, and in worst circumstances, death by suicide.
Two different but related cases of juvenile delinquency, one of 28 students at a nude party in Westgate and the other of clueless drunk youths milling along Mbuya Nehanda Street (reportedly after coming out of the Big Apple Night Club) which were reported in the media and went viral on the internet, point to a worrying moral decadence which can be attributed to the prevalent alcohol and substance abuse rampant in the country.
The situation cannot be left alone and has to be nipped in the bud, by way of interventions from relevant Government and youths organisations through deliberate and robust awareness programmes on the dangers of intoxication on youth development initiatives.
According to WHO, every year, tobacco kills at least 8 million people. Millions more live with lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma or chronic lung disease caused by tobacco.
In 2017, tobacco killed 3,3 million users and people exposed to second-hand smoke from lung-related conditions, including 1,5 million people dying from chronic respiratory diseases, 1,2 million deaths from cancer (tracheal, bronchus and lung) 600 000 deaths from respiratory infections and tuberculosis.
WHO also pointed that more than 60 000 children aged under five die of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke and those who live on into adulthood are more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life.
The Government of Zimbabwe should join the rest of the world in the fight against tobacco abuse in the country by implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and enforcing effective tobacco control actions, including WHO's recommended "MPOWER" policy measures, for example by reducing demand for tobacco through taxation, creating smoke-free places and cessation support.
Parents should also play a critical role in educating their children of the dangers of engaging in substance abuse at a younger age.
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