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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Smoking A growing pastime for Nigerian girls

Cigarette smoking in Nigeria used to be an exclusive preserve of the male gender in the past,  but with modernisation, it appears the trend is changing as Nigerian women, especially the youth, are now taking to smoking, writes TADE MAKINDE and BANJI ALUKO.

It was a Friday night, and expectedly, fun lovers-guys and ladies alike-gathered to have fun. The regulars were at hand—red lights, heart-shaking cacophony coming out of speakers and alcoholic drinks. Not that the scene was unusual. As a matter of fact, clubbing, or gathering together to enjoy music-spiced fun, is as old as civilisation itself. It is also a known fact that human nature abhors vacuum, something must spice living or else ‘it’ won’t be worth it.

However, clubbing and night parties in this part of the world were dominated by the male gender for a very long period.  The few women who made it to the club houses and the dance parties were regarded as the bad ones and they were few then. Majority of them were students of higher institutions who where kilometres away from the prying eyes of their parents. That was the age the number of guys in night parties more than quadruple that of girls who, most of the time, accompanied their boyfriends to the parties. Then, guys who brought ladies to night parties were regarded as “big boys”, while boys who managed to secure a dance with a lady would see it as an achievement.

Such was the dominance of the male gender at night parties and club houses some decades ago. The dominance also goes beyond the numerical dominance; guys were also in full control of the attendant activities that go with night gatherings such as drinking and smoking.

In fact, it was a taboo to see a lady smoking cigarette in the past. But with the passing of time, the popular saying that “what a man can do, a woman can do better” would later be used, albeit by Nigerian women, to challenge male dominance of fun, smoking, consumption of alcoholics and debauchery in general.

Nigerian ladies have risen to the challenge and are not showing any sign of waning.

Years ago, ladies that smoked and drank alcohol could be counted.  It was inviolable of sort to be seen with a stick of ‘stogie’.  But nowadays, more and more Nigerian young girls are taking up smoking and it is no more a surprise seeing girls smoking. The resentment many had for women cigarette smokers is gradually disappearing and girls are more determined to prove that they could do better in areas men had held sway.

Though the Nigerian society still resent female cigarette smokers, the club houses and drinking spots where many young girls now spend a considerable part of their time, don’t. The number of women—middle age and teenagers alike—in club houses these days is growing. And they are not just there to make up the numbers, they are key participants. It appears they don’t want to be left out of the fun that the male had maintained a lead over the years.

In clubs and drinking spots, they now have a presence that competes favourably with that of the male gender. Apart from this, they now thread on surfaces that used to be an exclusive preserve of men.

This position can be easily affirmed by a trip to night clubs in the major Nigerian cities. From the Sharia-dominated north to the largely Christian south, young ladies, especially from higher institutions of learning, boldly smoke, and guzzle liquor to show that “they belong.”

At a club house in Ibadan, a group of ladies, an admixture of teenagers and young adults, appeared out of the blues demanding for beers. Few minutes after, one of them brought out a packet of cigarette and a couple of them started smoking. Suddenly, the light went out and dimmed light from cigarette dotted the hall like a convergence of witches.

The above scenario will pale into insignificance if one visits a brothel or hotel where prostitutes regularly gather. These days, it now appears that cigarette smoking, at least, is a sine qua non for prostitution and without it, a woman cannot make it in the ‘old profession.’

Blessing, a teenager who only finished her secondary school education in 2010 told the reporter that she took to smoking last year because she saw a couple of her friends smoking. “I never thought I would smoke. Often, I see some girls do it and I actually dislike it.  But somehow, I have started smoking too,” she admitted.

Really, there have been grave concerns over the increasing rate at which women now smoke cigarette. The recently released statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of an increasing global trend of women and girls who have taken to the deadly habit of tobacco smoking is scary. Of the 5.4 million victims that die every year, 1.5 million are girls and women. The report also stated that half of the 151 countries surveyed, approximately as many girls use tobacco as boys.

Unlike the Asian and European countries where many often say that the weather and the freedom enjoyed by females allow them to smoke and drink without raising eyebrows, the sudden rise in the number of ladies smoking and boozing has got many fearing that there could be more women smokers than male ones in the nearest future.

However, for those trying to ape European ladies who smoke on the excuse that it warms them up from inside in the cold region, Dr. Adeyefa Adeniran of All Souls Medical Centre, Oke-Ado, Ibadan, says it’s not true as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption does not warm up human beings.

“It’s the norm in Europe among the ladies, smoking and drinking has nothing to do with the weather.  The proven fact is that cigarette smoking kills, but millions still smoke despite the glaring warnings on cigarette packs.  Do you know why? It’s because the nicotine in it is addictive”. Latest reports indicate that out of the more than one billion smokers worldwide, 250 million are women. About 5.5 per cent of them die annually from smoking-related ailments, corroborating Dr. Adeyefa’s statement.

In Nigeria, a recent study shows that there are more than 13 million active cigarette smokers, out of which about 1.5 million are women.  This is the warning signal that shows that cigarette smoking has gained foothold among Nigerian women, especially the young ones.

According to another medical expert, Dr John Ademola, at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, “the number of women that smoke would triple over the next generation and millions will die prematurely if nothing is done about it,” he observed.

But danger lurks ahead for women cigarette smokers.

He says research has shown that smoking affects the human cardio vascular system, lung function, reproductive system and bone density, adding that smoking accounts for nearly one in three cancer deaths worldwide. He listed other major health problems peculiar to women cigarette smokers as menstrual problems, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and premature menopause.

The medical practitioner also added that smoking constitute higher risks to pregnant women. He said that smoking could lower the amount of oxygen available to a pregnant woman and her baby, increase a baby’s heart rate, increase the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth and increase the likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight.

Dr. Adeyefa also adds that the same disease that affects males, “throat, bronchitis, trachea and lung cancer”, are suffered by females.

For pregnant women who smoke, the babies are easily exposed to diseases such as liver and cerebral problems. “They also weigh less than 3 kilograms, which is not good. These diseases have no cure”, he warns.

Another concern for female cigarette smokers is addiction. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that while 29 percent of male smokers have been able to quit, only 19 per cent of female smokers have permanently broken the habit. Women are three times more likely than men to relapse while trying to quit smoking without any help, the centre stated.

According to Dr Ademola, “while men smoke to feel more alert and vigorous, enjoying the positive feelings associated with smoking, women smoke because they find it relaxing.

He added that while nicotine appears to promote aggression in men, it has a calming effect on women. Women also appear to be more likely to take up smoking to help control theirs.

A Psychologist, Mr Tayo Abejide, added that the new strategy being used by manufacturers and marketers of cigarettes is to link smoking with attractiveness, which easily fascinates young girls, ultimately making them helpless victims.

“There is this erroneous belief that smoking offers some relief, even if temporarily. Up North, seasonal harsh weather sometimes induces more people into smoking. Unfortunately, they end up harming their pulmonary system more than they care to know”’, he said.

“Advertisers also lure young smokers so that they can be hooked on nicotine for many years”, added Dr. Adeyefa.

Another reason Mr Abejide gave for the rise in smoking among women is lack of watch by parents over their wards. “Many of the girls pick up this attitude while leaving at home with their parents. Since they do it most of the time in the nightclubs, bars and other similar places of entertainment, the question is, how these girls, including teenagers, became so free that they spend nights outside of home? This is where the root of the problem,” he stated.

Without these girls, however, club owners will have no business to run.

“They are the salt of showbiz, without women, guys who spend the money won’t come here to spend money on drinks and ladies. On Wednesdays when we have our ladies night, we make between N1.3 and 2 million. There is no way we can make such an amount if there are no women available. Women in a way are the reasons why men patronise clubs”.

But what is responsible for the upsurge in the number of female cigarette smokers in Nigeria? A female student at Lead City University, Ibadan, who prefers not to be named, said that in some circus, ladies who don’t smoke or drink “are not considered big girls and are therefore not respected.”

“When you see girls ‘puffing away’ in a club, the first impression is that such girls are “bad”, or loose.  However, many girls want to be labelled such because it draws attention to them from the guys.  It’s like guys immediately label them as sluts to be taken away and for the girls, it is like, ‘these are my wares; do you wanna buy? Smoking and drinking sells them”.