By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZiviso Global Editor At Large
HARARE, Zimbabwe – A man slowly crosses a busy street in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, puffing away at a cigarette, and then nonchalantly flicks the cigarette butt onto the tarmac.
The butt rolls away to the edge of the tarmac as the man gets swallowed by the crowd, a trail of smoke hovering behind his head.
In Zimbabwe, as in many parts of Africa, cigarette smoking is growing. According to experts, Africa is expected to double its tobacco consumption in 9 years if current trends continue. The surge in smoking is seen in young people under the age of 20 that constitute the majority of the continents population.
Zimbabwe – as one of the world leading producers of tobacco – has been more focused on te dollar sign over and above the negative consequences of smoking to te public. The government has been reluctant to put in place anti-smoking legislation. Tobacco has long figured prominently in the Zimbabwean economy – tobacco exports bring in a significant share of the country’s export earnings.
Cigarettes can be found everywhere – at street corners and in shops – at ridiculously cheap prices. Alex Madziro lives in Harare. He smokes an average of ten cigarettes a day. He says he has tried to quit but without success. “I just buy single cigarettes at street corners; it helps me to keep the habit in ccheck. I wish I could quit but it’s now very difficult,” he said in an interview. Cigarette companies can still advertise in the media. While the adverts contain health warnings, these have not been sufficient to stem smoking in the country. To put it bluntly, none of the adverts make note of the fact that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body.
According to a 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) survey, twenty-one percent of men in Zimbabwe smoke cigarettes.Across Africa, it is estimated men constitute of 70-85 percent of smokers. For many, smoking starts at a young age. It starts with peer pressure, being exposed to second hand smoking, having parents and best friends who smoke. While it’s almost taboo for women to smoke, the habit is slowly picking up among young women who regard it as a fashion statement.
Globally, tobacco kills more than 14,000 people each day – nearly 6 million people each year. Included in this death toll are some 600,000 non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2004, children accounted for 31% of these deaths. Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful, and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.
Without urgent action, deaths from tobacco could reach 8 million by 2030. 63% of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, for which tobacco use is one of the greatest risk factors. A jarring statistic is that around half of all smokers alive today will be killed by tobacco. Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today.
On the streets of Harare, smoking continues unabated: how much it is a public health problem is yet to be known. In fact, it is regarded low in the priority of public health issues affecting the country today. The death rate from smoking in Africa where treatment options are absent is high but smoking is not a priority in African public health strategies.
“Tobacco is way down in the public health concerns we have. There is malaria, malnutrition, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis. So, tobacco comes as something we know to be harmful, but we are not ready to handle at this time because of the limited resources that are available,” Dr Adamson Muula, a senior lecturer of public health at the University of Malawi was quoted by Voice of America in an interview on the ravages of smoking in Africa.
Just like Zimbabwe, very few countries in Africa have tobacco control acts to protect citizens from adverse effects of smoking, second hand smoking and the rate of new addictions.