FOR many years, Tobacco farming and the use of products manufactured out of the plant have provided lively debates around the world. In Tanzania, the many people who are not smokers regard Tobacco with a lot of suspicions.
Over the years since the plant was introduced in the country, many Tanzanians have learnt of the dangers associated with the use of its products. However, this has not deterred the many others who use Tobacco products such as cigarettes.
Many Tanzanians, especially in rural areas, are still unaware of the dangers posed by the use of Tobacco products. In many parts of the country where the plant is grown, farmers smoke unprocessed Tobacco without any worry in the world. This is despite statistics that point to the dangers associated with the use of tobacco.
According to Dr. Ali A. Mzige, a prominent community health expert and a life member of Tanzania Public Health Association (TPHA), Tobacco is the only product that kills half of its consumers. After every eight seconds the world loses someone through Tobacco use.
Research has revealed that those who use tobacco early in their lives die 25 years earlier than those who have never used it in their lives. Tobacco use causes 5 million deaths every year worldwide and half of the deaths that result from cigarette smoking affect people between the ages of 30 and 69 years.
Cigarette smoking is responsible for 12% of all deaths worldwide and men account for majority of the deaths in developing countries when compared to the developed countries. In Tanzania, the exact number of cigarette smokers is still unknown.
Attempts to attain a definite figure are hampered by complicated logistics such as difficulty in accessing rural communities. But preliminary research has shown that those who live in rural areas smoke more than those living in urban areas.
Experts have found that every single cigarette smoked reduces the lifespan of the smoker by 7 minutes. There is undisputed evidence that losses resulting from the use of Tobacco far outweigh economic gains from the product.
According to the 1994 World Bank Report, in 1990 the whole world produced 7 million tones of Tobacco . Estimates to determine Tobacco benefits to farmers, traders and governments - in terms of tax revenues - indicate that the disadvantages associated with tobacco far outweigh its benefits.
To arrive at final Tobacco products, trees must be felled, medical bills must be paid for those who suffer from Tobacco related ailments and loss of manpower as a result of such ailments. The clearing of forests has led to devastating effects on the global environment which in itself has translated to loss of lives.
In 1990, the world incurred a $200 billion loss that was associated with cultivation and use of Tobacco. Yet ironically, long term losses associated with the crop are often overlooked as many people rush to enjoy short-term benefits.
Although in Tanzania the main form of Tobacco consumption is through cigarettes, there are more than ten ways of consuming it worldwide. Some of the common methods of Tobacco consumption include through cigarettes, cigars, beedi, electronic cigarettes, hookah, kreteks, passive smoking, pipe smoking, hand rolled cigarettes (Roll Your Own) and vaporizer.
The active substances in Tobacco, especially cigarettes, are administered by burning the leaves and inhaling the resultant vaporized gas. This quickly and effectively delivers substances into the bloodstream by absorption through the alveoli in the lungs.
This method is inefficient as not all of the smoke will be inhaled, and some amount of the active substances will be lost in the process of combustion known as pyrolysis. Pipe and Cigar smoke are not inhaled because of their high alkalinity, which is irritating to the trachea and lungs.
However, because of its higher alkalinity (pH 8.5) compared to cigarette smoke (pH 5.3), unionized nicotine is more readily absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth. Nicotine absorption from cigar and pipe, however, is much less than that from cigarette smoke.
The inhaled substances trigger chemical reactions in nerve endings. These nicotinic acetylcholine receptors takes are located in the central nervous system and at the nerve-muscle junction of skeletal muscles; whose activity increases heart rate, alertness, and faster reaction times.
When Tobacco is smoked, most of the nicotine is pyrolyzed. However, a dose sufficient to cause mild somatic dependency and mild to strong psychological dependency remains. There is also a formation of harmane (a MAO inhibitor) from the acetaldehyde in tobacco smoke which seems to play an important role in nicotine addiction—probably by facilitating a dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens as a response to nicotine stimuli.
Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer).
The World Health Organization estimates that Tobacco caused 5.4 million deaths in 2004 and 100 million deaths over the course of the 20th century. Rates of smoking have leveled off or declined in the developed world.
For pregnant women who smoke, the danger of miscarriage, delivery of still-born babies and giving birth to under weight babies (LBW<2.5) is a reality. The smoke resulting from cigarette smoking has more than 4000 chemicals. Sixty among those chemicals are known to lead to cancer.
Some of these chemicals include Acetone which is responsible for decolorization, Arsenic which is used for killing termites, Butane gas which is used in manufacturing light matches, Cadmium which is used in car battery manufacture, DDT which is used as an insecticide and Formaldehyde which is used in preservation of corpses.
Other chemicals contained in cigarette smoke include hydrogen cyanide, nicotine, phenol, toluene and vinyl chloride, among many others.
For smoking men, the picture is even gloomier. Many men who have stopped smoking have done so, not because of fear of the many ailments associated with smoking but because of learning the truth that smoking leads to impotence and reduction of blood in the body.
But even as Tobacco use continues to claim hundreds of thousands of Tanzanian lives, little has been achieved by both anti-Tobacco campaigners and the government to roll back its use in the country. As a result of Tobacco being a highly profitable crop in the short-run and given that powerful western multi-national companies have found a niche in the third world, in countries such as Tanzania, the opposition to anti-tobacco crusades has been overwhelming.
In neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda, anti-Tobacco campaigns have led to enactment of laws that prohibit people from smoking in public places.
In the Western world and Australia where tobacco use has been significantly rolled back through aggressive campaigns, tobacco companies are compelled to openly display the effects of tobacco use on product packages such as cigarette packets. Tobacco use warnings in such countries include large-enough graphic prints of body parts affected by tobacco use being displayed on cigarette packets.
Some of these measures have been accompanied by heavy taxation imposed on tobacco products. These efforts have led to a rise in prices of tobacco products hence discouraging traders and consumers from dealing in them.
In Tanzania, many people are ignorant of the devastating effects of tobacco use. If tobacco companies were compelled to issue warnings of such risks on cigarette packets, the response to abstinence from smoking would be huge.