Fact or fiction: Debunking the myths about smoking


1. Smoking Marijuana is harmless: Various groups, including #LegalizeIt! have termed marijuana a natural herb and want it legalised.

“Even tobacco is natural! Cannabis contains the same number of chemicals but in different levels,” says Dr Munyu, a chest physician.

“Cannabis also has tar which can irritate body organs and cause various diseases.”

2. Smoking suppresses appetite: Dr Munyu agrees that smoking chokes appetite and in fact, most users actually lose weight.

“The problem with this is that when one stops smoking, they may start to eat a little more. It is also a very dangerous step towards weight loss because it is unhealthy and not worth the long-term effects,” he says.

3. Smoking makes the voice raspy, thus it's good for musicians and radio hosts: According to Munyu, rasping happens due to inflammation and callousing processes in the throat and around the larynx (voice-box).

4. Smokeless cigarettes are harmless: E-cigarettes and other smokeless tools were initially marketed as products that can help addicts quit smoking. Munyu says this has not been proven and he does not recommend it. He says he has seen patients with severe reactions to vaping.

“Many of the chemicals used in vaping devices are fake. Many of the cases we see are from allergic reactions and the dangerous ingredients in the flavours,” he says.

5. Menthol cigarettes are less harmful:  Over two-thirds of Kenyan smokers believe menthols are less harmful than regular cigarettes.

“About one in five smokers in Kenya who has a regular brand of cigarettes smoked menthols, higher than in most high-income countries,” according to a Ministry of Health’s study.

The study says menthol reduces the harshness of tobacco smoke which makes it easier for children and young adults to take up smoking.  Munyu says this is false and that menthol cigarettes were in fact “specifically designed to trap people.”

This is one of the reasons over 30 countries and jurisdictions including Canada, Senegal, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia and the EU, have banned menthol cigarettes.

6. Cigars are less harmful than cigarettes: “Some people believe that because they chew cigars instead of inhaling the smoke. They may be safer. But the reality is, there isn’t much difference between chewing tobacco to smoking it. Users in both cases may develop cancer in the mouth and throat. It is not a better substitute,” says Munyu.

7. Smoking causes erectile dysfunction: “That is true!” says Dr Munyu. “This happens because smoking cuts off blood supply to the male sexual organs. It also causes hardening of blood vessels which can impair the normal functioning of the organs.”

8. Second-hand smoke is not that bad: False! Dr Munyu says, as a matter of fact, the primary smoker has the advantage of inhaling the drug through a filter. This means some of the chemicals don’t get into their system. It is not the same for the non-smoker in the room.

“It is actually worse for a second-hand smoker, they are exposed to similar dangers as active smokers,” he says.

9. Nicotine gums and patches are better: Not necessarily. They are only safer in that they only have nicotine and none of the other 4,000-plus chemicals found in cigarettes.

Munyu, however, warns they should not be abused in place of smoking but only used as a means to cushion against effects of withdrawal when an addict is trying to drop smoking.

10. Cigarettes help with concentration: “It is true smoking boosts concentration, but there are better ways of achieving the same,” according to Dr Munyu.