GUEST COLUMNIST: Choose health, not tobacco

Monday May 27 2019


By Heri Tungaraza

Medical school has a long tradition of teaching students that the body is in a constant war with foreign bodies, notably the micro organisms.This type of teaching for a while limits your tactics to the human versus microrganisms. However with time, it dawns on the future doctors that the enemy in most cases is not just these micropic creatures.

The body can too be harmed by the individual himself. I am reminded of an old man who came to the clinic and was told his foot had to be amputed because of tobacco smoking.

He lamented and immediately called his wife home to throw all boxes of cigarettes out. However this could not save his foot. Tobacco is one such example of behaviours that harm the body leading to self destruction.

A list of habits that can harm the body is long and poses a major threat now than ever before. According to the report by the HelpAge Internation, about 30 per cent of deaths is due to non-communicable diseases.Times have really changed and so must we.

Why quit smoking

Tobacco smoking has a lot of documented harmful effects to the health of a human body. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), still about 1.1 billion people smoked tobacco in the year 2015.Since 1964 following the US General’s report on smoking and tobacco use, there have been many successful campaigns to reduce smoking with admirable declines mainly in the west.


Eastern Mediterranean region, Asia and Africa regions have not mimicked the trend and hence a lot of work needs to be done.

In Tanzania today, according to the WHO steps survey, tobacco users account for 15.9 per cent of the population. This number though lower than the average world tobacco use of 20 per cent, still poses a threat to a country like ours whose health system is already constrained.

We are aware of so many ailmensts associated with tobacco use, it affects nearly every organ of the body. The harm of the ciggarettes is related to its more than 600 chemicals in it which when burned rise to around 7000. It’s a vice by all measures.

The diseases associated with cigarette smoking are many and include multiple cancers (lung cancer as number one), cardiovascular conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, rhemaotid arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and so on. It can also lower one’s immunity, reduce sperm count, affect bone health, increase the risk of cataract and damage maternal health including reducing the birth weight.

From the public health point of view, cigarette smoking should be discouraged by all means possible and safeguard especially those that don’t smoke but suffer from smokers.

There are multiple ways to quit, from nicotine replacement methods (patches, gums, lorengez and inhalers) to exrecise.

Smoking cessation can be a challenge due to its social dimension. In some societies, those who smoke are the cool ones and in some like in China, carries respect. It’s therefore important to consider this when providing treatment for those who wish to quit. Currently in Tanzania, there are treatment centres for quitters.

The treatment is mainly psycho therapy aimed at helping the individual change certain behaviours that put him or her at risk of smoking.

The good news about quitting smoking is that one begins to enjoy the benefits immediately. For example for cardiovascular risk, after a year of quitting smoking, the risk for heart attack drops sharply.Between 2 to 5 years a quitter’s risk for stroke will be the same as that of a non-smoker.

For the cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and bladder, the risk drop by a half within 5 years. After 10 years without cigarette smoking, one’s risk of dying from lung cancer is cut by a half. As the date to commomerate ‘world no tobbaco day’ nears, we should remind each other of this vice which can be detrimental to one’s wellbeing.

Campaigns should not give up and non-smokers should be given incentives like lowering their health premiums.

Our manufactures should be reminded to reduce the nicotine content and put those visible warnings signs in every pack of cigarette.Health is wealth and it is never too late for one to quit smoking.