Mmegi Online :: Tobacco, poverty are strange bedfellows
Last Updated
Monday 22 January 2018, 20:00 pm.
Tobacco, poverty are strange bedfellows

As it is the norm, Botswana recently joined the rest of the world to commemorate the annual World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) in Selebi-Phikwe.
By Correspondent Fri 16 Jun 2017, 17:28 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Tobacco, poverty are strange bedfellows

WNTD is commemorated annually with the main aim of highlighting the risks of tobacco use on different aspects of human life and to advocate for effective policies to reduce the use of tobacco.

This year, the commemoration was held under the theme “Tobacco – a threat to development”. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the campaign will demonstrate the threats that the tobacco industry poses to the sustainable development of all countries, including the health and economic well-being of their citizens. In addition, it will propose measures that governments and the public should take to promote health and development by confronting the global tobacco crisis.

In response to this year’s WNTD theme, the Anti-Tobacco Network (ATN) had a conversation with the Tlhokwe family, a family of 10 residing in Bokaa village in the Kgatleng area.

The family aptly fit the bill that, tobacco and poverty are strange bedfellows is not just mere rhetoric. 

This destitute squad of smokers (save for one), who epitomise desolation in its true sense of the word, can make a pyre with their cigarettes in the midst of grinding poverty. The family is headed by a 73-year-old mother Oleseng Keromotswe. She has been taking snuff for what seems like forever. She narrates that she got hooked after suffering nosebleed for the better part of her adulthood, and was told that sniffing the snuff would bring an end to her suffering.

“I was advised to use snuff for health reasons, but the prescription was from a layman not a medical doctor. Now I can’t live without it. The sad thing is that now this addiction has really emptied my pockets,” says Oleseng.

Her daily intake is priced at P10, asking a sum of P70 weekly to keep cravings at bay. Her son Dipuo Tlhokwe spends much more on cigarettes.

“I spend more than P200 on cigarettes in a month, but I make sure that I buy food in the house first,” he says.

However, the grocery does not last the whole month. The situation in this household is so bad that his mother repeatedly appeals for help since the Social Welfare Department has denied enrolling the family in the food basket regime. Dipuo is pretty much aware of the effects of tobacco consumption to the household’s socio-economic status. “Smoking is such a drawback in life. If I wasn’t a smoker I could have been far in life. I could have done a lot like building a proper house, connecting power and water in


our household,” says Dipuo.

On the other hand, the only non-smoker in this family Tlhagiso Tlhokwe is 22-years-old and works as a security guard in Gaborone. He has big dreams of completing his secondary studies since he did not do well in his Form 3 and envisions a smoke-free household where the little household income is put to meaningful use.

“I grew up in this household where everyone is a smoker. I decided not to follow suit since I knew the harmful effects of smoking and its contribution to poverty in households,” he highlights. The Tlhokwe family situation confirms that tobacco and poverty are inextricably linked. Many studies have shown that in the poorest of households in many low-income countries, spending on tobacco products often represent more than 10% of total household expenditure.

As a result, these families have less expendable income for necessities such as food, education and health care. Thus, in addition to its direct health effects, tobacco leads to malnutrition, increased health-care costs and premature death.

Viewed from this perspective, tobacco may also contribute to a higher illiteracy rate, since money is spent on tobacco instead of education.

Tobacco and poverty have become linked in a vicious circle, through which tobacco exacerbates poverty and poverty is also associated with higher prevalence of tobacco use. Several studies from different parts of the world have shown that smoking and other forms of tobacco use are much higher among the poor. According to WHO, tobacco not only impoverishes those who use it, it puts a huge financial costs on countries.

These costs encompass increased health-care costs, lost productivity due to illness and early death, foreign exchange losses, and environmental damage.

Tobacco manufacturer’s desperate attempts to stave off sensible regulation have included overstating the employment and trade benefits of tobacco to developing countries and raising the spectre of massive job losses if governments move to protect public health.

According to the World Bank, these arguments and the data on which they are based greatly misrepresent the effects of tobacco control policies. 

This year’s WNTD sets the stage for Botswana and many other countries to prioritise tobacco control strategies in order to stop the perpetuation of poverty propagated by the easy access of tobacco in homes and other public places.

ATN is in support of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to fully implement the provisions of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to save generations from the harms caused by tobacco including poverty.

*Anti-Tobacco Network (ATN) contributed this article


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