He is 13 and comes from an affluent family. He goes to one of the prestigious high schools in Blantyre. His family is spending a fortune to send him to this high school forgoing a luxurious life they can afford to live.
The parents get the shock of their lives when they are called by school authorities informing them that their son has been caught in his room with some of his friends smoking Chamba (weed). The son is dismissed from school.
This is not an isolated case of Chamba and tobacco smoking in Malawi among under aged children. A recent report by the Tobacco Atlas revealed that more than 5, 000 children within the age bracket of 10 to 14 years smoke tobacco in Malawi. Does our country have policies regulating the production, marketing and consumption of tobacco which is posing a serious threat on individual and public health? Much as we appreciate that tobacco is one of Malawi’s major forex earner, is it ethical and worth trading off with the health of innocent souls?
Some of the contributing factors to underage smoking in our country include the aggressive and deceiving marketing strategy by the tobacco industry. For instance, there is one tobacco commercial referring to cigarettes as “okoma” meaning delicious. This is one way of luring customers including youngsters to taste the cigarettes.
Parents that smoke tobacco do not set a good example to their children. Parents are the most immediate role model to children. The latter easily develop the urge to emulate their parents’ or grown up’s examples. As such, they would want to experience what the grown-ups experience.
By the time the parents discover that their children are smoking tobacco, the children would have become addicted to it or have advanced into smoking Chamba.
Some children are made to sell roasted groundnuts, sweets and other snacks together with cigarettes in streets or markets. Doesn’t this exposure and ease of access tempt the children to try smoking?
These young souls may grow into future tobacco addicts. Nicotine in tobacco is very addictive. Research shows that one tobacco cigarette contains more than 78 toxic chemical substances that cause different types of cancers which puts the health of the 5, 000 plus children at risk.
The world recently commemorated World No Tobacco Day on 31st May, 2018. This day was established by the World Health Organization (WHO) as part of the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI).
According to WHO, TFI was established in July 1998 and focuses on international attention, resources and action on the global tobacco epidemic. Its mission is to reduce the global burden of disease and death caused by tobacco, thereby protecting present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
While WHO is advocating for no tobacco production, Malawi is still exporting it as the gold of the nation. There has been calls from some quarters for Malawi to focus on other products such as tea, coffee and cotton, among others, but the nation seems to be stuck in the green gold at the expense of exposing its population to health hazard.
Unless children are not exposed to tobacco fumes and access to cigarettes both in private and public spaces, the battle against effects of tobacco and its burden on the health budget will continue to haunt this nation.
Unless we focus on replacing tobacco with other equally high demand and high price fetching products, the TFI by WHO will gravely affect our economy.
Have a reflective weekend!
By Dumase Zgambo Mapemba and Chimwemwe Ngoma (posted as published in the Malawi News on 8/11/2018).