Old habits die hard, so the saying goes – but for 40-year-old Allan Mwamba*, it was different. Allan has smoked since he was a teenager but after a number of failed attempts, he’s now been able to avoid having a cigarette for over four years now.
Allan says that it is possible to kick off the habit for good if one puts their mind to it.
Allan as he talks to Your Health says the first time he ever tried a cigarette was back in 1995 when he was in his Advanced-levels.
He used to be a renowned footballer in Dar es Salaam back in the days but one fine day he met with a leg injury that restricted him from playing football or do any sort of exercises.
Football was his life, as he says. “I got almost depressed and stressed of being unable to go on the ground and that’s when the bad habits kicked in, you know, drinking and smoking because you are so idle,” Allan says that it was the stress of not able to play football that led him to take his first puff.
When Allan began work in the media industry after five years, his purchasing power grew bigger.
Smoking grew from a mere habit to a style statement for Allan. That means the number of cigarettes that he smoked grew from 2-3 to almost 11-14 cigarettes a day. “You know smoking was stylish for me back then and there were triggers where I craved a cigarette such as coffee in the morning, break time, after a meal, beer in the evening and smoking also helped me to fit in unfamiliar new work places,” Allan confesses.
First trigger to quit: Warning label
Allan could smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day. With his nature of work, Allan used to travel a lot across Africa.
It was in Egypt during a work tour where the thought of quitting smoking popped for the first time in his mind. “When I was in Cairo, I went out to buy a packet of cigarettes. But what really disturbed me was the graphics on the pack of cigarettes,” Allan says.
On the packet of cigarette, there was a loud display of warning sign that was illustrated graphically on how smoking may be harming your body, as Allan says. “I was repulsed and disgusted to see those images of rotten parts of the body displayed on the packet and I took back that image in my mind home,” Allan adds.
Experts say that the goals of such labels is to inform consumers about the risks of smoking, encouraging quitting among smokers, and preventing others from ever starting.
World Health Organisation reports that health warning labels on tobacco products constitute the most cost-effective tool for educating smokers and non-smokers alike about the health risks of tobacco use. In many countries, more smokers report getting information about the health risks of smoking from warning labels than any other source except television. Just like the case with Allan.
Cigarette packages in most countries carry a health warning; however, the position, size and general strength of these warnings vary considerably across jurisdictions.
In Tanzania, the type of warnings on cigarette packs are text warnings/messages that cover only 30 per cent of the packet, both front and back.
Section 6 of the Tobacco Products Act (TPA) states: “No person shall sell tobacco products unless the packet containing it displays in the prescribed form and manner such information as stipulated in the Second Schedule to this Act.” The Second Schedule requires that any one of ten text-only health messages “shall be displayed in Kiswahili and English on every packet of cigarettes or tobacco product.”
Tobacco Control Laws’ online portal reports that although the Tanzanian law meets the minimum requirements of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Art. 11 with respect to size (at least 30%), to fully align with FCTC Art. 11 and the FCTC Art. 11 Guidelines, the law should require that warnings cover at least 50 per cent of both principal display areas.
In addition, the law or regulations implementing the law should specify rotation of the health messages and require combined picture and text health warnings and messages.
Second attempt to quit: Support
One of Allan’s good friend whom he wishes to keep anonymous was always on his neck to stop smoking. Whenever they both sit down for a coversation or drink, the topic of ‘quitting smoking’ always used to emerge, Allan tells.
“A good friend of mine has always been advising me on quitting smoking. He used to lecture me on the ill effects of smoking by giving real life cases that he has witnessed. But I never used to take him seriously,” Allan says.
He adds, “The day I told him that I want to quit this habit [smoking], I knew I could count on him for not only support but also the push.”
In 2012, Allan tried quitting. But he didn’t go beyond three months. And after several failed attempts, Allan finally quit in 2014.
It has been more than four years that Allan hasn’t touched a cigarette.
“My wife played a big role in helping me quit. She used to have a fun, creative way of challenging me to go without smoking a cigarette for weeks or months, so that is one other thing that really pushed me to quit,” Allan says.
After 24 years, Allan stopped smoking completely. But he is one in a thousands who have decided and strong willingly quit smoking.
Still about 14.1 per cent of all Tanzanians smoke tobacco daily while the product remains to be a major health risk, government statistics show.
There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ahead of ‘World No Tobacco Day’ that falls on 31 May every year to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, anti-tobacco activists and campaigners are urging government to enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship at sporting events.
Renowned anti-tobacco activist in Tanzania, Ms Lutgard Kagaruki, was quoted in an interview with The Citizen, “I am very sad! Because I cannot concur with other countries that we are fighting against the use of tobacco products while the country has 10 companies producing different tobacco products and at least 20 cigarette brands.”
She lamented on the existing laws and regulations that are not in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
The WHO FCTC is the world’s most powerful tool to tackle tobacco’s negative impact on development, insisting on increasing tobacco taxes and prices as effective ways to reduce demand for tobacco by reducing its affordability.
Tobacco kills up to half of its users, WHO reports. More than 8 million of deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke and around 80 percent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco is deadly in any form and threatens the lung health of everyone exposed to it, where by, it kills one person every 4 seconds
One of the golden rules to cut the risk of cancer, Dr Chris Peterson, a medical practitioner based in Dar es Salaam says to avoid use of tobacco products, including smoking.
He says, “If you have tried to quit, don’t give up. Eventually something will work.”
Adding, “Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers. Since cigarette smoking is the cause of over 90 per cent of lung cancer cases, avoiding smoking or quitting smoking can significantly lower a person’s risk of developing this disease.”
A smoker’s risk of lung cancer is 15 to 25 times more than that of a non-smoker and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day and the number of years of smoking. Quitting at any age will significantly lower the risk, Dr Peterson explains.
Life after quitting 24 years of smoking
Almost four years into his nicotine-free life and Allan says he has never felt this good. “Initially, I used to have about three cigarettes per drink. You know these are triggers that bring on the cravings. But I always told myself, if I can sustain going without a cigarette for a week, why not keep going,” he says.
And then, weeks turned into months and months into years.
Allan never experienced extreme withdrawal symptoms because, according to him, he religiously worked out. “I think exercising to a big extent has helped my body accept and that’s why I haven’t really felt ill or weak because of not smoking,” Allan says.
Allan leads a normal busy work routine, exercises at least 30 minutes a day, still enjoys a drink at the bar once in a while, tries to maintain a healthy diet and keeps stress at bay.
Allan advises all those who are trying to quit smoking to put their boxing gloves on and be determined. It is possible, he says.
“Develop mindfulness to deal with cravings and outsmart nicotine. If you become aware of the mind games the ghost of nicotine plays, you have the advantage in overcoming them. Also, think of it as if you are fighting back against the injustice of ‘smoking’, robbing you of good health – and money,” Allan advises.