Tobacco experts express worry over smoking amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Despite a reduction in the prevalence of tobacco smoking, tobacco experts have expressed worry over continued smoking by people amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The WHO report on global tobacco pandemic 2021 revealed that the prevalence of tobacco smoking among people of 15 years and above, has reduced from 22.7% to 17.5%.

This has reduced by 6.7% since 2000, however approximately over 1bn people all over the world still practice smoking and WHO predicts a rapid increase in this prevalence especially among African men. 

Due to massive smoking, there is premature death of approximately 8m people across the world.

 In Uganda the WHO estimates that 1.7m people smoked in 2010 while in 2014, the nationwide survey indicated that 7.4% were daily smokers with 79.3% being men yet highest smokers were aged 30-49 years.

 Dr. Eliya Mwesigwa, who treated Covid-19 patients in the three Covid-19 waves in one of the referral hospitals HDU and ICU shared his experience.

According to Mwesigwa, the  ground experience while at the front line treating covid patients showed that  40% of the people admitted due to covid had a background of smoking.

 “Uganda lost a lot of patients with Chronic Obstructive lung Disease (COPD), this is when the lungs are compromised by the effects of smoking therefore when an individual infected with covid-19, the chances of death are high by 60% yet those with a longstanding background of smoking is more than 90% chances of death,” he said.

He however added that, Smoking highly leads to covid patients getting into the ICU by malfunctioning of the ceria which helps to move secretion or mucus from the lungs via the air pipe so that an individual is able to cough out the secretions.

“Once they accumulate and one is not able to cough them out, as a result of secretions produced by Covid-19 that still adds to the pre-existing secretions of smoking, which causes blockage that leads to suffocation of lungs and this is called inability to expectorate,” he noted 

He explained that this is a complex process that may require a bronchoscopy where by a tube being guided into the lungs with some source of light so that the mucus plugs are removed.

He however noted that with smoking the walls of the airways become very delicate because any bacteria or virus that gets into it can easily penetrate, making an individual more ill in addition to generally weakening the body immunity.

Dr. Hafswa Lukwata Ssentongo,the National Tobacco Control Focal Person, with the Ministry for Health said during a meeting with journalists at the ministry headquarters, young people abuse drugs more at School.

“Many children practice smoking of drugs while at schools than homes but with a long period of lockdown due to Covid-19, most of them were able to stop smoking because of being in custody with the parents however the Ministry for Health is aware that tobacco smokers are among the most group of people to get admitted in Covid-19 centers,” she explained.

A 2020- 2021 tobacco survey carried out by the Ministry for Health, indicated that most tobacco consumers are based in rural areas where people are poorly sensitized on the dangers of smoking tobacoo.

Some of the areas include northern Uganda in regions of Karamoja with 16%, Arua 13% and Kampala at 0.9%.

She urged the youths not to initiate into tobacco smoking because the addiction is hard to overcome.

Programs Manager Uganda Health Communication Alliance Asaba Linda, said there are several ways in which tobacco is used for example through chewing, injecting via blood vessels, and sniffing, which all affects the lung system.

In Kampala there is a lot of electronic cigarettes use especially among the young people due to the degree of accessibility of tobacco which also attracts many youths into smoking of tobacco.

Asaba indicated, Uganda passed the tobacco control act in 2015 that speaks of the minors who are below 21 years of age, the none selling points like places near hospitals, schools, prohibits smoking in public places and the packaging style were the information should be displayed but not hidden and all this is aimed at warning the users.

Drugs Apana Initiative Team leader and founder, Ana Ssebunya, explained how drug abuse is a source of myths among the youths.

The rehabilitation centers are overwhelmed with children due to drug abuse effects which the anti-tobacco activists   want the government to put more effort into educating the children about dangers of using drugs in addition to skilling them with handcraft works aimed at making them busy.

Ssebunya noted that some drugs among others used by the youths due to peers are Cuba, tobacco, cocaine, alcohol and other pharmaceutical drugs with intentions of reducing the stress however this leads to suicidal cases in a long run.


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