In developed countries, it is not rare to find accomplished professionals and family-oriented persons who smoke and don't mind if their status is open knowledge to family, friends and colleagues. However, this is not the case in Nigeria as the act of smoking is not only a designated health issue but a moral one.
For example, a girl would never think of mentioning to her parents that her boyfriend smokes and for a girl who smokes, she might as well forget about being married to her fiancé if his parents ever finds out that she's got the puffing habit.
Despite the health implications and cultural stigma that should naturally prevent learned persons from taking that first puff, there are still 'clean' people who defy these inhibitions and still navigate their life into the path of a smoking habit. We borrowed the word 'clean' from the local lingo and it refers to a person who is economically comfortable, good looking and appears to be responsible.
In general, Nigerians view smoking as a vice that should not be condoled and this may explain why 'clean' people who smoke do so through a closeted lifestyle. A major evidence to this fact is the lack of pictorial content on the web depicting a 'clean' Nigerian smoking. We typed in the words "Americans smoking" in the popular image search site - images.google.com and on the first page, we could immediately site one 'clean' American smoking. We did the same with the phrase "British smoking" and we sited even more 'clean' people on the first page including women. Another search on "Chinese smoking" and the first page showed so many 'clean' Chinese men puffing away.
Finally, we typed in the words "Nigerians smoking" and we could not find a single full faced clean person smoking on either the first or second page of the search result. So, if smoking is such a taboo in Nigeria, why would a 'clean' person still take up the habit?
We spoke to some professionals who smoke with the intent of understanding what could have led them to a lifestyle that is physically dangerous and culturally frowned upon and these are their own words -
“I am an Engineer. I started smoking in 1997 when I was in University and got into smoking out of my will due to peer pressure. I wanted to be among the happening guys. Back then if you can’t beat them, you join them. I knew I definitely wanted to join them because if you don't, you'll be seen as out of fashion or a slacker plus I was scared of losing my friends.”
“I am a Medical Doctor. I started smoking when I was in JSS 3 but got really addicted when I got to the University. I was adventurous as a kid, I had seen a lot of people smoke, so wanted to try it out myself and before I knew it, I got hooked.”
“I am self employed, I started smoking in 2005 after my Dad passed away, i was very close to my Dad so couldn’t believe I won’t see him again, the stress, the pressure led me into smoking. It was easy for me to dabble into it because my elder sister also smoked. I now enjoy smoking so don’t think I will stop any time soon.”
“I am the CEO of a company. I started 3rd year at the University as a casual smoker. Each time my friends and I hung out, I will try a few sticks but didn't really get addicted to it. I've stopped though, but I can say that it was a good distraction.”
In life, habits can be very hard to break and smoking is even more difficult as a result of nicotine contained in cigarettes and it is clear that most of the people interviewed took up smoking at a young age when they are yet able to appreciate the impact and implications of smoking on their health. We hope their responses would help parents and guardians who are grooming tomorrow's 'clean' Nigerians to know how best to protect their wards from taking the first puff so they'll be free from smoking-related diseases and hazards.
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