There are about 7000 chemicals in tobacco, 400 of those chemicals are cancer causing chemicals. Alcohol has the ability to cause lung and mouth cancer with its advertisements surrounding us everywhere.
NACADA indicates that at least 4.9 million Kenyans aged 15 – 65 years are abusing at least one drug or another substance. This group has many in high school, others in colleges and universities and the work force of the country.
While the threat of losing this crucial group in the society is unthinkable, what is the society doing to prevent the youth from indulging in drug abuse?
Smoking is regarded as the gateway drug. One then graduates to alcohol all the way to cocaine and heroin in some cases. Catherine Amulundu, Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention Unit Coordinator at the University of Nairobi says, “The greatest cause of drug abuse is the pleasure seeking nature of man.”
This is besides the genetic predisposition of an individual, personality where people with aggression traits are likely to abuse drugs, stress, availability of the drug, poverty and need to find coping mechanism.
Catherine explains addiction as the urge of the body to enjoy the same level of stimulation as the first time the individual used the drug. Once an individual takes in a drug say smokes bang, the brain releases Dopamine which makes the individual stimulated or the ordinary know ‘high’.
Dopamine receptor which is the neuron responsible for pleasure signals is released in large numbers depending on the drug used. Cocaine for example, leads to release of very many dopamine receptors which leads to a higher stimulation and a longer ‘high’. The feeling keeps calling, and when the body gets used, an individual requires a harder drug to achieve more stimulation.
Alex Mudumba says, “I had no idea that smoking and use of cannabis leads to cancer.” He works in a Play Station shop in Rong’ai and works long days and nights. His drug of choice is (miraa) Khat and Kuber. He says, “Mimi hutumia ndio niweze kwenda na rada.”
Eric Kirimi a student at the University of Nairobi, says: “Am enjoying the new state am in. Am more healthy and I am in a good relationship with my family.” He started using drugs while in Form three and was a walking zombie for over 3 years. He was introduced to drugs by friends and the urge to belong.
Alex is one among many users who Dr Geofrey Wango a Psychology Lecturer at the University of Nairobi describes as self medicated addicts. Alex says he uses the drug twice or thrice a week which clearly is a self medication. Dr Wango says: “Self medication is as a result of one trying to find coping mechanism.”
A person using Tobacco risks respiratory problems such as increased coughing, phlegm, wheezing, chest colds and shortness of breath, serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, ear infections, osteoporosis and impotence. Asthma attacks or increased asthma symptoms. Dental problems such as yellow teeth, gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, dulled sense of smell and taste. And low sperm count: teenage smokers have fewer than half as many sperms as non-smokers.
Advertising is an aspect of drug abuse that can promote both positive and negative health habits. Business Daily reported in 2015 that East African Breweries spent 2 billion shillings in advertising making it fifth highest spending company in the process.
When you hit Haille Selassie road, you meet adverts of Amarura while hitting Mombasa roads leads to even more ads on wines and spirits. It is hard to regulate the ages of the viewers of the advert. The government and the alcohol companies agreed not use models below the age of 21 years which a step in the right direction.
The adverts effects in the minds of users cannot be out-rightly explained as it varies from individual to individual. Dr Wango says the effects of this adverts is the human nature of modeling what we see.
Dr. Wango accepts that the creation of adverts to sell alcohol for example is a painting of an illusion which influences sales.
“The society must take responsibility and create adverts to counter these adverts.” Eric and Alex agree to a large extent advertising both directly and indirectly affected their drug use.
Njoroge J. Kimingi in his Masters in Communication project at the University of Nairobi, arrives to this conclusion in his research that the Process and Effects of Alcohol Advertising in the Lives of the Kenyan Youth , ‘ On the issues of knowledge, attitude and practice the research results showed that most youths were able to distinguish falsehoods in the advertisements and expressed no chance in exhibiting observed behavior in the advertisements. However for some, there were serious indications that some of the ideas portrayed by some of the advertisements were quite overwhelming.’
The balance between the investments by the society in protecting the youth from indulging in drugs and the advertising firms on alcohol and vendors online, lies in the society identifying its culture and laying a pattern of behavior that is consistent and acceptable as Dr. Wango and Cathrine Amulundu agree.