By Mariama Marong
Modou Njie, a resident of New Jeshwang, has been smoking for over 25 years. He said he did not encounter any health problems since then, but smoking helped reduce his stress during difficult moments. Njie uses two packets of cigarettes in two or three days. That is if he doesn’t share with anyone. For him, cigarettes are useful to him.
“I cannot live a day without smoking a cigarette. If I don’t smoke, I feel like the whole world is against me and I get irritated easily,” he said.
Buba Ceesay, like Modou Njie, said smoking reduces stress and helps him to forget his problems. Ceesay said he started smoking because he was grappling with hardship.
“It was never my intention to be a smoker. It is a situation I found myself in and I cannot do away from it now because I am addicted to it,” he said.
Modou and Buba’s thoughts about smoking is the complete paradox of what health experts say about it. In fact, health affirms that smoking is harmful and detrimental to the smoker and non-smokers’ health.
Omar Badjie, Non-Communicable Disease Manager who doubles as the National Focal Person for Tobacco Control under the Ministry of Health, said public smoking is all about behavioural problems.
Badjie said tobacco contains many deadly chemicals which are detrimental to human life, explaining that tobacco contains seven thousand (7000) different chemicals in a single stick of cigarette which affects all parts of the human body. He added that deadly chemicals used in tobacco can lead to addiction which makes it difficult for smokers to leave it completely.
Public Smoking: Is the Government Committed to the Ban?
Public smoking is more harmful and is still a problem in The Gambia despite its ban by the government in 2018.
According to the Tobacco Control Act, smoking in public or in the presence of another person should be a distance of 100 meters away. It also said not a single stick of cigarette should be sold, requiring the selling of cigarettes in packets.
In addition, the Act said minors should not be exposed to cigarette buying or selling and there should not be any advertisements on tobacco and any profits from cigarettes should not be used for sponsorship.
For Badjie, the Gambia government is ready and committed to controlling public smoking, saying the government has the Tobacco Control Act and other regulations to deal with public smoking.
“All the laws and provisions in the tobacco act are being fully implemented by the government and its agents,” he said.
The Tobacco Control boss said the role of the government and that of civil societies is to ensure the implementation of the Act so that public smoking is eliminated or minimized in the country. Manager Badjie revealed that the full implementation of the Act has been ongoing since 2016 when the Act was enacted in the parliament.
“Now it’s just left with people and their behaviour change toward the eradication of public smoking because smoking affects individuals whether directly or indirectly,” he said.
Speaking further, Badjie said the use of shisha in public places like restaurants and clubs by young people is increasing in the country, especially among the girls.
“People smoking shisha take it as a pride and mostly young girls and have this belief that if you don’t smoke shisha you are outdated, which is now a competition among girls,” Badjie disclosed, while lamenting that the eradication of public smoking is a collective responsibility because the State cannot do it alone. He said the civil societies, media and the public all have a huge role to play.
With regard to public smoking, smoker Modou Njie said he respects the Tobacco Control Act and it is unlikely for him to smoke in public. However, he urged the government to create space where cigarette users can use without causing hazards to the people and the environment. He said public smoking cannot be eradicated hence the government did not provide measures to implement the aforesaid Act.
Smoker Buba Ceesay too, pleaded to the government to create places in public where smokers can go and smoke without disturbing non-smokers.
Momodou Jatta, a landlord at Bundung Ka Kunda, said public smoking is rampant in society and people are abusing cigarettes and are exposed to non-smokers.
“We the compound heads are in big trouble because smokers are sometimes tenants in our homes and our children are being exposed to this smoking,” he said.
Jatta said the ban on public smoking should extend to houses and compounds, adding that the ban should be strictly enforced to ensure that the public is safe from harmful chemicals. He described tobacco as a drug that affects not only an individual but the whole family.
“If one is affected, then it affects all,” he noted.
Momodou Gassama, a health expert working with the World Health Organization (WHO), said public smoking is harmful to people and the environment as a whole. Gassama said there is an Act on tobacco that bans the usage of public smoking. Thus, he called on people to respect the Act and refrain from smoking in public.