Tobacco addiction on the rise among youth

Angelique Murekatete is nursing her son (name withheld) who is admitted at University Teaching Hospital Kigali, after a diagnosis revealed that the 22-year-old suffered from lung cancer caused by tobacco smoking.
Smoking exposes young people to health risks.
Smoking exposes young people to health risks.

Angelique Murekatete is nursing her son (name withheld) who is admitted at University Teaching Hospital Kigali, after a diagnosis revealed that the 22-year-old suffered from lung cancer caused by tobacco smoking.

“It is so painful that the only son I have is likely to die due to severe lung cancer caused by smoking. Doctors told me that his cancer is due to exposure to smoking at a tender age and his chances of survival are few,” said Murekatete, a resident of Kicukiro, a City of Kigali suburb.

According to Murekatete, her son started smoking when he was only 14 while at school due to peer influence; resulting into a serious addiction. “I tried my best to discourage him from smoking but it was too late; he was already addicted and now his future is gone. I hope my son’s life sends a message to all youth who are wasting away their lives smoking,” she said.

Murekatete advises parents to be in charge of their children’s health and discourage them from smoking even if it requires taking harsh measures. “Smoking is dangerous; I don’t wish any parent to lose a child due to smoking,” she added.

Murekatete’s son is just one of the growing numbers of young people world-wide who have taken to smoking as a social habit and thereby exposing themselves to the risk of disease such as lung cancer.

Jean de Dieu Nyirabega, the deputy director general in charge of disease prevention and control at Rwanda Biomedical Centre recently told Sunday Times that a national survey revealed that about 7 percent of people between 15 and 25 years use tobacco, exposing them to the risk of lung cancer at a young age.

While the World Health Organisation, in collaboration with governments, forced cigarette makers to visibly warn consumers that tobacco smoking is harmful in a bid to increase awareness, millions of people continue to adopt the habit world-wide every year.

In order to find out how tobacco smoking is posing a big health risk to the youth in the City of Kigali, Sunday Times visited Kicukiro Centre. Here, many young people do casual jobs to earn a living and most of them use tobacco as refreshment.

But what is driving the youth into tobacco smoking? Twenty-five-year-old Jean Paul Nshimiyimana, said he started smoking three years ago and blames it on peer pressure. “I belonged to a group and all my friends were smokers. I started smoking in order not to feel out of place,” he said. Nshimiyimana is however aware of the effects tobacco posed to his health, but admits it has been hard to quit smoking.

For 23-year-old Patrick Muneza, it was mere curiosity and adventure that made him fall in love with tobacco at the age of 19. “People often said that when you smoke you feel good and relaxed and all this tempted me to try it more often. Despite knowing the consequences, today I can’t do without a cigarette,” he said.

Jackson, 27, is into the entertainment business and claims that he started smoking cigarettes at 20 due to the influence of his role model, Lil Wayne. I always wanted to be like him hence emulating his smoking habit, he said.

Why do traders sell tobacco to underage people? Shopkeepers Sunday Times posed this question to advanced different opinions regarding their clients. “I believe people have their own reasons for smoking and they’re aware of the consequences. So, as a business person, all I care about is the growth of my business,” says Jean Marie Ndayisenga, a vendor.

But Mary Ingabire who owns a supermarket, disagrees with Ndayisenga. “I can’t sell cigarettes to people under 18. I always receive young people who want cigarettes, but I often turn them away,” she said. Ingabire believes refusing to sell cigarettes to minors is one way to discourage the youth from smoking, which is in line with the government policy.

Interestingly, the youth themselves are aware of the consequences and those already addicted discourage others who have not yet been hooked to keep off tobacco.

Research shows that smokers are at greater risk of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease). Furthermore, smoking can cause lung disease by damaging airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in lungs. Smoking is also known to cause cancer in any part of the body.

Medical experts have linked the apparent increase in Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to growing abuse of tobacco and alcohol.

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