By Paul Ashibel
The atmosphere was dense. This was not the first time I was visiting T-Jay at the hospital, in fact, it had become a daily event. However, there was something unsettling about that afternoon. Maybe it was the distant look in his eyes, those eyes that once sparkled with promise had sunk deep in their sockets. Maybe it was the wheezing sound that heaved from his chest when he tried to breathe.
The day was December 21st, 2015, and T-Jay had been in the hospital for six months, having been diagnosed of lung cancer.
We exchanged pleasantries as I sat down beside him. “Come Freddie” he said to me, “help me up” I helped him to seat up and propped him with a pillow. He peered out of the hospital window to take in the beautiful Christmas designs, and the colorfully dressed children playing outside. He managed a weak smile, then winced as though in pensive memory. “Freddie” he said, “Do you know when my journey to this hospital bed began?”, without waiting for a response he continued, “it was December 2005, I just turned 18, my body was strong, and I felt invincible. As young thrill seekers that yuletide season, some friends and I decided that smoking was a ‘cool’ way to entertain ourselves. I got hooked in afterwards. That is what nicotine does to you, it keeps you glued to the habit long enough to damage your body or snuff out your life”.
My eyes were wet with tears as I listened to him in silence.
He looked at me with great effort and said, “I know I have caused my family and friends great pain, and I am deeply sorry, but I do not want you to cry for me. I am sharing this story with you so you can help save those who are making the same mistake or those planning to make the same mistake – Let my story be sufficient reason for them to stop”. T-Jay passed on later that night.
Death for Sale
As heartbreaking as T-Jay’s story is, it is not an isolated one. According to a 2021 report by the World Health Organization, tobacco kills more than eight (8) million people each year. Out of that number, 7 million deaths are as a result of direct tobacco use, while 1.2 million deaths are the result of non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
With an estimated 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide, tobacco is notorious for killing half of its users.
Cigarette tobacco, waterpipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco products such as cigars, cigarolls, and pipe tobacco are known to contain several cancer-causing toxins, they are known to cause cancer of the lungs, head, throat, esophagus and oral cavity.
Other relatively new products as e-cigarettes and shisha/hookah are not safe either. These products contain almost the same amount of nicotine as cigarette tobacco, making them just as addictive. It has been established that shisha smoking causes such cardiovascular complications as congestive heart failure, heart attack or stroke.
All hands-on deck
The holiday season is a great time to unwind from the year’s hustle and bustle. It is also a time for retrospection in preparation for the coming year. There’s no better time as now to commit to quit smoking.
Smoking causes several diseases; it also causes economic hardship as a result of resources spent on hospitalization and treatment. However, no one will experience this if they do not take up smoking in the first place.
What can you do? Stop Smoking or do not even start.
What the Nigerian Government Must Do
Government must protect the health of the people by:
· Enforcing the use of pictorial health warnings on tobacco products
· Raising taxes on tobacco products
· Warning people about the dangers of tobacco use
· Progressively working towards a complete ban on tobacco to protect the health of present and future generations.
T-Jay died in his prime, but because we know better, people today should not die as a result of tobacco use.
Have a #TobaccoFree Holiday.
NB: Paul Ashibel is Communications Officer, Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance