A dangerous lifestyle that is trending among Nigerian youths today is smoking. Some youths in their 20s and 30s look charming and innocent, and nothing in their appearance could give one a clue that they are chain smokers until they are found puffing away at the white sticks, not minding the presence of onlookers who may feel embarrassed by the display of their bad habit in public. This is the world of Nigerian youth smokers. The most worrisome part of their lifestyle is the caution that some of these youths have thrown to the winds, to the extent that they don’t care who is watching them, or who is around them while smoking.
Cigarettes are made from tobacco leaves which are grown in many parts of the world including Africa. Even though tobacco has been used for centuries, smoking is been counted as a phenomenon of the 20th century; in Africa, the use of cigarettes has continued to increase since the end of World War II.
The increased occurrence of lung cancer in cigarette smokers first drew attention to the possibility of the harmful effect of cigarette smoking. Medical research has now shown conclusively that smoking is dangerous to health. With smoking, there is also an increase in the occurrence of heart disease, bronchitis, chronic cough and increased tendency to tuberculosis. Smoking in women leads to reduction in fertility; even when they take in, it often ends up in a miscarriage but for many others, the baby is small with brain development and growth below average. Also, menopause occurs earlier.
Smokers run a 70% higher risk of dying than non-smokers; the effects of smoking are dose-related. In other words, the more cigarettes that are smoked, the higher the tendency to succumb to the health hazards listed above. There are light smokers (1-5 sticks per day), moderate smokers (5-20 sticks) and heavy smokers (more than 20 sticks per day). More pathetic is the case of involuntary or passive smoking in which the person inhales the cigarette smoke being puffed by others simply because he/she is close to the smoker in the home, school, clubhouse etc. The effect of involuntary or passive smoking is similar to that of direct light smoking; this has government to decree laws banning smoking in public places. The good news however is that stopping smoking is never too late for light and moderate smokers for whom cessation of smoking leads to a rapid improvement in their medical attention.
But why start smoking in the first place? Smoking doesn’t come naturally to human beings; it is not a normal function of the body, young people learn to smoke. It has adverse effects on the victims’ health. Most people that smoke start smoking as teenagers and reasons vary from peer group pressure, experimentation to mere showing off. Peer group pressure make up the dominant reason why young people learn how to smoke Teenagers who take up smoking ought to know they are harming their bodies and mortgaging their future but most importantly risk the possibility of getting addicted to chemical constituents (e.g. nicotine) of cigarette smoke. It is advisable for parents or guardians to know the kind of friends their children/wards keep; and for those in tertiary institutions, parents could pay them unscheduled visits.
The mass media is another contributing factor to cigarette smoking among youths. It is so unfortunate that some of our youths picked this dirty habit from their so-called musical or movie role models from the entertainment industry; and that is many have advocated a couple of years that smoking by actors and actresses should be banned in our Nollywood movies and musical videos. Even in developed countries which place huge emphasis on human rights, there are numerous places where people are restrained from smoking. It is in this light that I strongly support the law recently enacted by the Lagos State government, banning smoking in public areas and we are appealing to the Federal Government to take a clue from the Lagos State government, and enact the same law at the federal level.
Child neglect is also responsible for children learning how to smoke; when a child is allowed to take alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs, it is an act of neglect or abuse on the child as well as sending children on errands to purchase alcohol, cigarettes or hard drugs might entice the child into the act of taking these substances. In those days on our streets, after buying cigarettes for adults, the kids would roll a piece of paper in form of a stick of cigarette, light it and smoke. This shows the compelling effect sending children to purchase such items can have on them.
A woman was lucky enough to detect on time how her two-year old son was beginning to learn how to smoke when a friend of hers came visiting. But while out of the living room, leaving only the visitor and her son, her friend observed that the little boy was using his fingers to mimic smokers and quickly called the mother who came and saw what he was doing. They were both thrown into amazement, trying to fathom how the child could have learnt such dangerous act at such a tender age; it was much later, on close observation that the woman discovered that the child learnt the act from the TV, once there was an advert on cigarettes, the boy would run to the living room to focus all his attention on the television screen. From that day on, she promptly decided to put a check on his watching in the house and when the boy was no longer seeing cigarette adverts, he stopped the habit. Children have short retention span; they forget things easily, especially, when it is out of their reach.
In conclusion, cigarette smoking is not only dangerous to one’s own health, it is also dangerous to the health of others (involuntary smokers); it stresses the relations who have to take care of the smoker when he/she is ill and it is a financial drain on the person, his/her family and the community. Apart from bringing up responsible youths, there would be less public health expenditure in treating health conditions like cancer of the lungs, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, ulcer among other related diseases that are directly linked to smoking. By so doing, our public health officers would be laying more emphasis on preventive medicine instead of curative medicine, which is more expensive.