Ban tobacco farming to reverse alarming smoking trends
What you need to know:
- The World No Tobacco Day is observed every year on May 31.
- This year’s theme is “We need food, not tobacco.”
The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) recently released a report on the status of alcohol and drug abuse in the country. Shockingly, the age of initiation for tobacco was revealed to be six years, which is the lowest ever recorded in the country’s history. That of other drugs is higher and this just points to the problem that we are staring at as a country.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a record 349 million people across 79 countries are facing acute food insecurity, many are in low and middle-income countries including more than 30 countries on the African continent. Many of these countries use large areas of fertile land to grow tobacco rather than healthy food.
This year’s World No Tobacco Day theme is ‘We need food, not tobacco’ and it aims to create an enabling and supportive crop production and marketing ecosystem to help farmers shift from tobacco growing to alternative livelihoods.
Kenya, just like many other African countries, is still smarting out from the effects of a devastating drought that placed millions at risk of starvation and death in the last couple of months. Thankfully, the rains have been pounding and the scorched earth is now greening in a magical process that is rekindling hope for life even as others continue suffering the diverse effects of floods.
As reported by the WHO, tobacco growing countries often face a negative economic impact due to the adverse health, environmental and social impacts of growing tobacco. In many cases, foreign exchange earned from tobacco exports is used to import food. Growing tobacco causes ill health among farmers and farm workers and irreversible environmental loss of precious resources such as water sources, forests, plants and animal species.
In the report by Nacada, almost 2.5 million Kenyans aged between 15 and 65 years are currently using tobacco. If these statistics are not confounding in relation to the extent to which tobacco use has penetrated the society, then there’s nothing else that ought to be. In a country that is steadily positioning itself as the information hub in sub-Saharan Africa, we ought to be careful that the globalisation effort does not lead us deeper into the tobacco addiction abyss. It is common knowledge that today, novel tobacco products have taken over the internet by storm and the youth are the primary target.
Narrowing it down further to the youth, the Nacada statistics indicate that almost half a million youth in Kenya aged between 25 and 35 years are currently using tobacco. This represents one in every 17. As for those aged between 15 and 24, over 230,000 are currently using tobacco and this represents one in every 31. As far as dependence to the drug is concerned, one in every 30 Kenyans aged between 15 and 65 years are addicted. This represents almost a whooping 900,000 people. As a matter of fact, 38 per cent of current tobacco users are addicted to the drug.
The figures are mind-boggling. Something needs to be done urgently if we are to reverse this negative trend and in the process also ensure that we delay the initiation age to a much older one.
One of the most effective ways through which is going to be achieved is elimination of tobacco farming in the country. To this end the government through the Ministry of Health and in collaboration with other stakeholders has managed to put a significant number of former tobacco growing farmers to cultivation of alternative crops.
The growers have sold 135 tonnes of beans to the World Food Programme, which is a step in the right direction in an effort to try and confront the tobacco menace head on.