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Cigarette smoking takes unknown toll on Somalis

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
By Abdi Moalim

Faisal Aadan (left), a 29-year-old resident of Mogadishu's Hamar Weyne district, says he is unemployed but finds ways to sustain his pack-a-day cigarette habit. [Dahir Jibril/Sabahi]

The Somali government should undertake a comprehensive study on the effects of tobacco consumption since many Somalis lack awareness about the physical and economic consequences of smoking, health specialists and labour officials say.

An official study would cast light on smoking-related medical problems and the connection between smoking and financial and social issues, said Adam Haji Ibrahim, a physician and public health specialist who teaches at Benadir University.

A study is also needed to discern how many Somalis are lighting up, he said.

"There is no reliable study or research on the number of people who smoke cigarettes, the problems it has caused them and the general risk of smoking to the Somali public," Ibrahim told Sabahi, adding that the absence of a stable government capable to provide general social services to its citizens for the past 22 years is to blame.

According to the World Health Organisation, which promoted World No Tobacco Day on May 31st, nearly six million people die annually from tobacco and more than 600,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Somalia is at a disadvantage because it has no laws to restrict smoking, Ibrahim said. "Public awareness on smoking is really low and the consequence is that smoking-related problems are impacting smokers and non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke," he said.

Social and economic cost of cigarettes

Abdinur Bashir, a 38-year-old bus driver, said he has smoked forty cigarettes a day for 22 years, even though he was aware of potential health problems.

"I heard it harms the mind, I also heard it causes cancer and lowers life expectancy, but then it is an addiction that is not easy for me to stop," he said. "Sometimes smoking is more important to me than food, so I buy cigarettes with the money I earn and at times I get them from friends and we smoke one cigarette together."
Cigarettes represent a huge problem for personal, family and national wealth, said Abdirizaq Mohamed Abdirahman, an economist and former lecturer at SIMAD University.

"A Somali family earns an average daily income of $2, and two packs of cigarettes cost more than $2," he told Sabahi. A pack of twenty cigarettes costs between 50 cents and $1 in Somalia.

Cigarette smoking also greatly damages the country's economic productivity, Abdirahman said. "Smokers cannot complete the work hours their companies set because [taking smoke breaks] interferes with their hours," he said.

Mohamed Abukar Zubeyr, president of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions, said the government should implement a far-reaching strategy to combat public health problems from smoking.

"The first part of the strategy is to prevent youth from being addicted to cigarettes, and the second step is for school administrators, public transit drivers and cafes to issue internal rules to reduce smoking," he told Sabahi.

"The third step is to use public leaders to raise awareness among the groups they influence. The fourth step is to create a plan for smokers to quit and for prospective employers to state in their job advertisements that they do not want to hire a smoker."

"Parliament should pass a law prohibiting cigarette smoking, or at least putting restrictions on it," Zubeyr said. "Also, the government should create [recreational] opportunities for youth to quit smoking, such as creating sports teams for them."

Public campaign against smoking

Even though awareness programmes targeting smoking are few and far between in Somalia, some actions have been taken to fight smoking. For instance, some businesses ban smoking on their premises and forbid their employees from smoking, thereby encouraging people to quit.

"I smoked for some years and encountered big social problems as a result," said 27-year-old Yahye Maalin. Although he was ashamed of smoking in public and was under pressure by some of his friends to stop, he continued to smoke until his current employer made it impossible.

"I would at times stop an important task to find a secluded place to smoke," he told Sabahi. "My current workplace prohibits smoking and does not allow its employees to smoke at all, so after a while I quit smoking."

If companies stop hiring people who smoke or make quitting smoking a condition for employment, it would help cut down cigarette smoking, Maalin said.


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