This thing about tobacco

Before the invasion of the smart phone, and I use the word invasion on purpose, the newspaper was a very important document in circulating matters current affairs. A daily copy of the newspaper was a must have for a number of people. Around that time, media houses held parties and boasted at conferences on the millions of their newspaper circulation in the country and across the region. In fact the competition, then became inclusive of high quality printing equipment that was held over others.

Then a cancer struck. It became manifest in small tumors identified as social media platforms which gave rise to what came to be known as citizen journalism and the instant breaking of news headlines. With time, breaking news would not be on top of the newspaper the following morning, it was all summarized in a small tweet of 140 characters instantly. By the following morning it would all be stale news. But then I digress.

One copy of a newspaper would be read over and over again and it would still be available for close reference. Some people even took to archiving them. Every member of the family was catered for and equally had reason of looking forward to yet another story.

To those whom the newspaper became useless as the passing of its date, it was left for other services among which included acting as book covers for school going children, lighting the sigiri and worse as tissue in latrines.

Enter my man Alex (not real name). Alex had another use of the past newspaper. He would carry the copy to his bedroom to read but it never came out whole. He would always pull out a full page and keep it ‘for further reading’ which never turned out to be the case. He had been introduced to smoking by the team of masons that had come to construct the boys quarters of the house sometime back while in senior one.

Then, they called it ekisooko.  He would roll the piece of paper, light it up and puff out the smoke. This gave him a pleasurable feeling knowing that he now was doing ‘things adults do’. That’s how he began his smoking journey.

By the time he was in his senior six long holiday, he would no longer hide his smoking habit. He had switched to more serious stuff and a friend at school had introduced him to other products other than cigarettes.  And that was the time he left home.

Before long, Alex was checked into rehab a year later and he was ailing. That was the last time he ever stood on his feet. Something sinister had happened to his lungs. Every time he had a cough or flu, which was often, he spat blood and hurt deeply. His breath began to recede and he often gasped for breath.

Alex has been in and out of hospital for the last four years and one thing you cannot miss to see is the intense pain he is in. Different consultations have been done but a lot more is left to be desired.

He is not alone. Tobacco misuse has proved to be a silent killer of a number of people around us. It begins as a fashion, a cool thing among peers until it turns out to be a personal battle. Tobacco related diseases account for over one thousand deaths in the country. It is a silent killer that grows through a habit of looking cool. It turns into an addiction and it can be controlled no more. It picks on its victims one by one through a slow but painful death. The thing about tobacco is that the process of learning to smoke is easier than that of quitting. One feels incomplete until they have had a puff. And that has been Alex’s main struggle; having to let go.

There is a campaign by Tobacco Control Uganda  called #MySmokeFreeUganda that aims at reducing the number of deaths and ailments that people Alex are going through. 38 Ugandans die of  tobacco related diseases every day. this needs to be stopped. Join the movement today.

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