By Morton Manjawira
Another day, another set of phone calls and text messages from our audience! That is how I would sum up the feedback this far. On 27th July 2021, news of the launch of Tobacco harm reduction jingles on community radios in Malawi with funding from a Knowledge-Action-Change scholarship was awash on social media and this far, has been an overwhelming success. We have received phone calls & text messages from all corners of the target communities, both urban and rural.
Most of our feedback has come from daily smokers themselves, some who smoke combustible cigarettes and others who smoke the tobacco fresh off the farm. In a few heartwarming instances, we have also received calls from young men seeking to know more about tobacco harm reduction for their smoking fathers and not necessarily themselves.
“Where can I buy these products? My father is struggling with cigarette smoking,” asked Nikolasi Davis in a phone call.
Coincidentally, most of the calls and text messages we have received echo the latter question. Our audience wanted to know where they can purchase tobacco harm reduction products and, in some instances, they even wanted to know the prices. We believe this will create latent demand for the products amongst the few distributors in major cities.
In extension to that, another interesting niche of the audience this far has sought to strictly know more about nicotine. Nehemiah Akimu of Waliranji community, in a blunt and precise manner, was the first call to solely inquire about the utility value of nicotine.
“What is it you say nicotine does for the body exactly?” asked Akimu.
To cap it all off, was a 15-minute detailed phone call from Mr. Smart Mbewe of Madzi Mayera community. He starts by declaring smoking as a “crisis” in his community. “We started off farming tobacco as a community, and from that came Tobacco dependence. At the moment, it’s a burden, we have seen our friends and family die from Tobacco related illnesses. In addition to that, it’s weighing heavily on us economically, for instance, if your wife uses ‘Pembe’ (locally made chewable tobacco), it means you have to budget for a bottle every week”.
Quizzed on what they had done to address the smoking problem as a community this far. Mr. Mwale almost went into a rant, recollecting a memory of a herbalist who duped his community. “We consulted a herbalist, he made us form groups and gave us ‘potions’ that were believed to help quit smoking. Surprisingly, instead of quitting smoking, community members claimed to experience an excess need to smoke. Meanwhile, the herbalist had already been paid for his nameless potions”, he lamented.
Nonetheless, Mr. Mwale ended on a high note and was full of optimism. “We believe you and want you to know that you’re welcome in our community. The formed groups of smokers are still there if you would like to use them. It would even be much better if you set up a small shelter to help smokers.”