September 10, 2013

An epidemic of lung cancer awaits us!

The sight of a young man in soccer attire with a cigarette dangling from his lips, zipping down Alikilegefaanu-magu in Male this morning suddenly brought to my mind the results of yesterday’s Maldives SAFF soccer match-up in Kathmandu against the Indian side.  Low altitude practice in Maldives having to show in a high altitude match is not the only thing that could have made our side less formidable as it was on paper. I would think the lung capacity that could have been, was hampered ever more by the cigarette smoking that our young soccer stars seems to take to very lightly. Who knows, with more discipline in these departments we could have made the difference between a delightful win and the heart-breaking loss as was experienced yesterday and the deplorable spectacle that ensued at this bitter end. 

Being a health professional, I know that cigarette smoking is definitely harmful to health. In our youth we hardly notice that anything could hurt us – perhaps that is the beauty and the folly of youth also. But being the educated lot that we are after at least 50 years of modern schooling in our country, we must learn to look at the evidence and take some decisions that are based on science. Gone are the days when we did not know the dangers of smoking; we have had at least 30 years of anti-tobacco lobby and policies from the government, but the public don’t seem to care, and after the last local anti–tobacco legislation was out this year, coming on the coattails of the global convention on tobacco by the World Health Organization, the practice that was to have been curtailed has in fact snowballed on our streets, and in our cafes and homes. 

The dangers of smoking are by now scientifically proved and even as we may defensively say that my life is mine and you don’t have to tell me what to do with my life, the truth is that by doing what we do so effortlessly and thoughtlessly, we are actually costing our Nation a huge health bill. Our colds and coughs and other lung problems are the result of our smoking as a nation. Just go into any of our mosques and hear the sneezes and coughs that seem never ending. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to stop going to mosque because of it, but just be careful to have a tissue or hankie ready to cover your mouth and nose, just in case; or carry a mask, as we do in Hajj or Umra, in case you are nursing a cold. We can’t now blame the wood-stoves that our grandmothers used for the epidemic of acute respiratory infections that we are now experiencing even as we have the most pristine God given air in our beautiful country. Yet we hope to pollute our lungs with that dirty smoke heavily laced with a thousand or more harmful chemicals that each puff of our inhaled smoke has. I would predict an epidemic of lung cancer in our beautiful country in the not too distant future.

So can we be aware of the folly we are beset with. Again I have to refer to Lord Bernard Shaw’s jocular definition of the cigarette, that; “it is a white long cylindrical object with a fire at one end, and a fool at the other”. But then this is serious too; our foolishness cannot be denied when we perpetrate our act of buying with our own money, that very thing in the market, that when used exactly as prescribed, will kill you or maim you. So how foolish can this be!? And I see a very popular shop and many others that sell this hideous stuff in Male. I would say to them, let’s make profit from things that don’t harm us. Let’s also be aware of the insidious and deceptive nature of the big global tobacco houses that produce these “killers that travel in packets” and fool you daily into using it through depicting to the receptive young mind that this is “cool” and the way to feel sophisticated and modern. All this is just yarns that they spin to get you hooked. And when you do, there is no end to the cycle of desire this creates. 

Take it from me as one who was hooked for about a decade of my youth and mercifully got out of it. Unlike now, they got me hooked long before all this noise of the dangers of smoking was out, but then I had to have the moral front to practice what I preached when I was working in the health ministry in Maldives in the heydays of the anti-tobacco lobby by the world organization and the health Ministry was the partner. We all made the valiant effort to show by example, and today, I feel personally so blessed, yet sorry for our youth. Thus I feel I have this moral imperative to tell the youth of today, that it is NOT COOL to smoke as the adverts may tell you; it is  really the digging of your own  grave shovel by shovel or incarcerating yourselves in a prison of ill health brick by brick. Please wake up, your parents need you to be in good health, your children need you to be in good health, and the nation needs you to be in good health. Otherwise, let’s welcome a sick Maldives in 2025.   

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