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Nairobi's smoking zones not meant for women

City residents smoke in one of the public areas set aside for them. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

Absence of women sorely stands out in Nairobi's smoking zones, where crowds can always be seen puffing and blowing smoke into the air.

Investigations by the Metropolitan found out that smoking dens in the city are uncomfortable for women. This, coupled with the looks women smokers get whenever they approach the dens, makes them stay away.

The city centre has five smoking zones, at the Tusker Bus Station, Jevanjee Gardens, near the Holy Family Basilica, Uhuru Park and down River Road, along Latema Road.

And in all these places the number of women who dare smoke are countable.

"Very few women come to buy cigarettes to smoke in this area. The few brave ones are commercial sex workers who smoke in the evening as they wait for clients," said Emily Nekesa, a cigarette vendor at Uhuru park.

Close scrutiny

Despite being a public smoking zone, female smokers find it difficult to ignore the scrutiny of passers-by and their male counterparts.

They are often judged and their morality questioned fore  the simple act of lighting a cigarette in public.

Ann Wamboi, a smoker and businesswoman, said she puffs when she is stressed.

She goes through a lot to get time out of her busy schedule and look for a conducive place to smoke.

She recalls being insulted and labelled as immoral f or just taking a cigarette out of her pocket to smoke.

"I am a businesswoman here in Uhuru Park. I sell cigarettes among other things and I also smoke. I once took a cigarette and joined my male customers to smoke, but I got a hostile reception,"she said.

"They told me it was immoral for a woman to smoke so openly. I had to leave and find another place to quench my thirst," she added.

Safety in numbers

"I used to smoke with my friends in secluded areas on  campus and it was less of a big deal. Nowadays, I work in town, and I must check with my male colleagues who smoke so I go with them to avoid stares," said Winnie Wanja, an intern in town.

City women mostly smoke cigarettes that are considered more expensive and classy as compared to the men.

"Women smokers go for expensive cigarettes like Embassy and Dunhill. They come in fours early in the morning or late evening when there are only a few people," said Damaris Nyaboke, a cigarette vendor along Koinange Street.

Ms Nyaboke says some campus students who were once frequent smokers stopped visiting the zone to avoid being ridiculed.