When the world came together several years ago to control smoking, it was painful for stakeholders, but it has borne fruit. Statistics indicate that the prevalence of smoking has drastically reduced in almost all countries. In some cases, the decline over a period of ten years has been as big as 25 per cent. What is even more interesting is that the fall in number of smokers has been highest among teens and minors. It means that, just by controlling access to cigarettes and public smoking, the number of young people lured into this dangerous habit has fallen significantly. In some countries, such as Sweden, daily smoking of tobacco decreased to only 12.5 per cent of the population. This is quite significant for a nation that once had up to 50 per cent per cent of its population puffing smoke.
The critical lesson here is that, addictive behaviours can be controlled and significantly reduced if a society is determined. It is a fallacy that human beings are inherently evil and will always find ways to pursue the wrong path. When addictive products are placed beyond reach, the majority will naturally find other more beneficial ways to use their time and resources. On the other hand, when evil is accessible, majority of us will easily follow our sinful nature. That is why families, communities and nations that care about their people, usually take steps to place addictive substances beyond ordinary reach, especially for children and youth.
It is from this perspective that we must view recent efforts by government to control betting and gambling – which are just as addictive as cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs. While the furore from betting firms and their sympathisers can well be understood – considering the huge amount of money involved – the benefits of such a ban far outweigh the loses thereof. We can ill afford to introduce youth to addiction to such labour free sources of money. In the long-term, the consequences will come back to haunt us.
Empirical evidence shows young people who get used to easy money, generally become poor workers and often resort to equally easy sources of finance. Many turn to stealing, corruption, or drug dealing – all because taking up jobs or engaging in ordinary business do not give the huge and quick returns they aspire for.
It was thus sad to note that – according to a series of statistics posted by one of the betting firms in the local dailies – the majority of those actively engaged in betting are young people, with aged between 18 and 24 at 5 per cent and between 25 and 34 years at 60 per cent, making a total of 65 per cent. This particular company had over 12 million subscribers, with a turnover of over Sh20 billion in 2018. This means that about 7.8 million young Kenyans, in their most productive age, had gambled away about Sh13 billion through this one company. One wonders what the total is for all the betting firms combined.
Of course, some have argued that the government crackdown on betting firms will impact heavily on these millions of Kenyans who have made betting their source of income. Others reason that betting firms do support social projects, especially sports, and should therefore be allowed to operate. Yet, these are similar to arguments proffered by tobacco companies when stringent controls were being introduced several years ago.
They reasoned that there would be massive job losses, affecting especially young people. Thankfully, the world was confronted with bare facts on the impact of tobacco smoking on the socio-economic wellbeing of individuals, families, and nations – especially on health factors such as cancer. Therefore, world leaders took the bold step to forego the financial benefits accruing from cigarette manufacture and sales. Instead a stringent ban was imposed on smoking in all public spaces and the sales were strictly controlled. The results speak for themselves.
As Kenyans, we must come to terms with the naked truth about the consequences of a nation addicted to free money – whether through gambling or corruption. We must not be deceived by the little tokens doled out by betting firms to bet winners and for social support. It was intriguing, for example, that out of a turnover of Sh20 billion received by a betting firm, only about Sh170 million is reported to have been given to social support.
It is a pity that a British MP – with no direct links to Kenya – should be so angry about betting companies exploiting Kenyans, yet our own MPs appear nonchalant as our blood is sucked and our youth destroyed for a bowl of soup! Mr Speaker Sir…