, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 29 – Forty percent of cigarette smokers in Kenyan schools are girls, a new survey released on Friday has revealed.
A Global Youth Tobacco survey done by the Tobacco Control Board indicated that more girls were picking up the habit.
Board chairman Peter Odhiambo pointed out that the statistics are the highest ever recorded in the country.
“Before this, Kenya had almost the range of about 12 percent smokers globally. Now it is rising to almost 18 percent. Men smoke more and more but we are seeing more and more women also smoking and that is lethal,” Dr Odhiambo observed.
“Of schoolchildren who smoke, a good 40 percent were girls and the rest were boys and that is something we have never heard of before,” he stated.
Speaking during the observance of the World No Tobacco Day 2010 in Nairobi, Dr Odhiambo urged women to desist from smoking citing adverse effects.
“The effects of smoking for women is much worse than for men. For women they will have the problem of infertility if not sterility, very frequent abortions, still births, sudden infant death syndromes,” he explained.
“This is like hitting them in the face because women and children are like the fruits of a tree,” he added.
The Ministry of Public health and Sanitation meanwhile has raised the red flag over the increasing number of female smokers in the country.
Minister Beth Mugo attributed this to the aggressive advertising campaigns targeting women by cigarette manufacturing companies.
Mrs Mugo said that the glamour and elegance portrayed by the adverts lure women into the habit.
“The prevalence of smoking in men is 48 percent as compared to 12 percent in women. In Kenya, 23 percent of men are smokers whilst the actual smoking prevalence among women is unclear due to their refusal to disclose so they really know that it is not good,” she explained.
The Public Health Minister said that the government would be actively seeking to implement the Tobacco Control Act which seeks to increase awareness on the dangers and effects of tobacco use.
“I call upon the working group on pictorial warnings to hasten its work and come up with an inventory of pictorial health warnings to be used on all tobacco packages that are for sale in Kenya in the near future,” she said. “We have also stepped up awareness activities at the community level and strengthened the enforcement of the law.”
Tobacco is a known cause of serious and other fatal ailments such as heart attacks, stroke cancer and chronic lung diseases.
Women who smoke have decreased fertility, higher risk of miscarriage, deliver babies with low birth weights and even experience still births.
Mrs Mugo further said that smoking especially during pregnancy adversely affects foetal development and can contribute to both maternal and foetal deaths.
In a bid to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the country, the public health minister stated that the ministry was taking steps to train 1,227 enforcement officers who include public health, police and judicial officers alongside local authority enforcement agents.
She however stated that a lot more needs to be done since the issue of tobacco control is as much a health issue as it is a social and economic matter.
She outlined plans to assist those women children who work in tobacco farms to get meaningful employment which does not adversely affect their health.
“Women and children who labour and toll in tobacco plantations suffer from direct contamination of dangerous tobacco chemicals as well as toxic farm inputs like pesticides and herbicides,” she stated.
“We shall be working together with them to get the other kinds of employment so that they live healthy lives.”