Gambian youths silently smoking to their early graves


By Isatou Juwara

This article is personal. As a medical student, a Muslim and an African, there is every reason why I had to write about this. What am I talking about? SMOKING!
Yes, almost everyone knows about the dangers associated with smoking. However, I have come to understand that often times, when smoking is mentioned, people immediately think about cigarettes. No doubt, cigarettes are the leading culprits in smoking addiction. However, there are even more popular drugs that Gambian youths are using, and on top of the list is Marijuana (a.k.a Cannabis a.k.a weed a.k.a ganja). Another popular drug is called Shisha also known as hookah.

Let’s start with popular Shisha addiction. Oh! Already they tighten their backs ready to defend the drug and deny any health problems associated to it. Look, smoking is smoking. Whatever form it takes, inhaling any smoke which is produced by the burning of substances (particularly tobacco), through the mouth, is smoking. People who smoke Shisha often share it. I asked someone once if they are not worried about spreading infectious diseases like tuberculosis and oral herpes. He showed me that everyone uses different mouthpieces. The fact is that while using different mouthpieces can reduce the chances of disease spread, it definitely does not eliminate it.


Moreover, infections are not the only problems associated with smoking. Let’s say the infections don’t get you. Every time you smoke Shisha (or any other tobacco product for that matter), you inhale hundreds of poisonous chemicals; some come from the tobacco itself which (don’t be deceived), water does not filter. Other toxins come from the burning of the charcoal itself, and the mixture of elements from the charcoal, tobacco and flavourings. Now, do you know what happens when toxins get into your body — into your lungs, your blood? They travel to different parts of your body causing so much havoc silently. Over time, your lungs get destroyed, your blood vessels narrow due to damage, your blood pressure slow rises, heart disease may result, stroke, or cancer may be triggered in another part of your body … and you think all this is far-fetched? Researchers did not make these up! These toxins found in tobacco which you inhale through Shisha, pipes, cigarettes – they will destroy your health!

I specifically chose to talk more about Shisha, for I am afraid time will not permit me discuss ‘cannabis’ and ‘cigarettes’. I am comfortable however, knowing that there is more literature on these anyway, and almost everyone has an idea why they are bad for our health.
My greatest reason for writing this article is to express my deep sorrow and concern with regard the alarming number of young smokers in my dear country. Am I the only one who has noticed how severe this problem is? We often cry about the youths and how they are the future leaders. With the rate at which young Gambians are smoking, I fear that these ‘young leaders’ may not make it into the future. Even if they do make it, they would only make it in altered physical and/or mental states of health.

When I began this write up, I mentioned that as an ‘African’, this problem is personal to me. I remember how the stories are told, of the times when it ‘took an entire village to raise a child’. How gone those days are! Now, I walk on the streets and see a 12-year old boy smoking cigarettes and no one dares utter a word. Now, we board vans to our various destinations, see a 15-year old “apprentice” smoking his lungs out and we do not even sigh. Now, parents go into their children’s rooms and smell ‘weed’, say a few words (sometimes none at all) and walk away. What are we doing to our youths? They are young, they do not know what they are doing. I was even shocked to see people smoking ‘weed’ in the presence of some police officers at the Youssou N’Dour Concert! Freely! Now am wondering if there are antismoking laws in The Gambia at all.


Do we not know that passive smoking is even more detrimental than active smoking?
Mental health problems are on the rise. Are we not seeing how more and more young men and women are running mad? Do we not know that it’s often caused by these drugs they take? Have you not heard about drug induced -schizophrenia? But you allow your children smoke Shisha. They smoke Shisha today, what will stop them from smoking Marijuana tomorrow? And Cigarettes after that? And use cocaine in the long run?
Let us introduce anti-smoking seminars in our schools. That is sometimes where these bad habits emanate. Let us educate the children about these dangers. Let us show them visual images of what happens to our bodies when we smoke. We need to make policies that protect citizens under 18 from smoking. We also need anti-smoking policies that prevent public smoking. Parents, teachers, policy makers, every citizen – THIS IS OUR FIGHT TO FIGHT. Otherwise, the mad, the sick or the dead may inherit our home.