We must not let our children puff their way to death

Editorial

The story of Amos Murigo, the way he puffed his leg away, is probably the strongest statement against smoking.

The painful narrative on his travail, as rekindled on Friday, to mark the World No Tobacco Day, climaxed with the chopping off of his left foot. After years of smoking-induced sickness, the limb had to be severed on the surgeon’s table because heavy puffing had strained blood circulation.

One year after the foot was amputated, and 16 years after his love for the wisp of smoke in the lungs began to take its toll, he may be one-legged but he has his life back.

For, he has led a nicotine-free life and elected to confront his addiction and the danger it posed. Today, if he did not defy the command of addiction, he could be one of Kenya’s contributions to the global statistics of the over three million who die annually due to smoking-related ailments.

During the celebrations, Murigo told his gory story, which hopefully should reach thousands of Kenyans, particularly the poor who incinerate their lungs into ash with cigarettes — at times just a lit roll of newspaper stacked with dried and ground tobacco leaves.

"The illness progressed until 1997 when the little toe on my left foot began to develop a problem. It turned black and began to shed flesh until only the bone remained," he said.

True, smoking is a lifestyle and were it not for its harmful effects, the victims could be left to face the consequences of their addictions. But the Government and other health agencies must discourage the youth from picking up the life-threatening habit.

This can be done through sensitisation programmes on the dangers of smoking. Smoking is also a menace to those who do not puff, the so-called passive smokers.

Their rights must be respected, for the potential killer smoke has no borders.

Tobacco Control Act 2007

The Government should come up with the appropriate legal regime that would respect the rights of those who have already picked up the habit, keep them informed about the consequences of their actions.

Kenya has recorded progress in this direction: This month the Kenya Tobacco Control Act 2007 came into force. It compels cigarette manufacturers to put prominent warning messages on the packets.

During the Thursday celebrations, the Tobacco Control Board, which enforces the Act, renewed the warning that it is time this stipulation was adhered to.

The board argues the companies have had enough time to prepare and place the messages.

Predictably, tobacco firms have resisted the new measures, for fear profits would plummet. The regulations do, in fact, bar advertising of tobacco products.

However, the gravity of the problem can be deduced from the fact that nine million Kenyans are addicted to smoking – one million are school children.

The weight of the problem also lies in the fact that tobacco contains over 4,000 sets of chemicals, 400 of which are associated with different cancers.

Because smoking is elective, smokers must make the decision knowing its consequences. But everything must be done to protect those who may fall into the trap just because it is showcased as a ‘cool’ habit.

That is why the new measures are welcome and must be implemented. We owe it to our society.