Tobacco smoking has of late become fashionable.
To many young impressionable people it is cool to be seen holding a cigarette.
In an interview with MMIKA SOLOMON, University of Botswana academic and Founder of Anti-Tobacco Network Dr. Bontle Mbongwe talks openly about the dangers of smoking.
Q. Please tell us who Dr. Mbongwe is?
I am just a simple woman from Ramotswa. I grew up in Kanye. I did my schooling in Kanye.
I grew up under the watchful eye of my grandparents.
Q. Which schools did you go to besides Seepapitso?
I have attended school in Swaziland where I did my Diploma in Environmental health.
I started with a Diploma but now I hold a Bachelor of Science in Community Health, Bachelor of Education, and Master of Science in Chemical & Environmental Toxicology, PHD in Environmental Science.
Q. How old are you?
I was born in the sixties.
Q. I can see you are married. How long have you been in this institution?
I have been married for 26 years. I am blessed with two daughters and a son.
Q. Do you go to church?
I am catholic. I pray at King Christ Cathedral.
What do you do for a living?
I am lecturer at the University of Botswana.
Q. Many of us know you through Anti Tobacco Network (ATN). Right?
My first job was at Ministry of health. I was assigned to deal with Tobacco control.
In-fact most of my working life was at the Ministry of health.
Hence, I am known to be involved in issues of tobacco control more than my day job.
Q. You seem to be handling the issue of tobacco control with passion. May I know why?
The truth is that tobacco has killed people close to me.
I am speaking from firsthand experience. Both my parents died because of tobacco.
My father was a heavy smoker of cigarette although by the time he died he had already quit.
My mum died because she was affected by my dad’ smoking habits. She was also taking snuff.
Q. What are the dangers associated with tobacco smoking?
Tobacco puts food on some people’s tables but It has devastating effects not only to the person who smokes but to the family and the country too.
When you are sick the country loses money in treating that person.
Q. Does the government of Botswana recognize that tobacco is a problem?
I am glad that the government of Botswana recognizes that tobacco is a problem.
There is a legislation that the government is working on to improve the law.
Those who manufacture and sell tobacco take advantage of the legal loopholes.
Q. Are the police doing enough to arrest illicit cigarettes dealers?
Our police are only focusing on illicit cigarettes from Zimbabwe.
They do not check those from the USA, Britain and other developed countries.
There is a company locally that is being protected and that cant be right.
It is estimated that people start smoking as early as 13 or 14 years of age.
14% of smokers are between the ages of 14 and 15 years of age.
We have a limited data that informs us who is smoking.
There is therefore a need for the government to do a research on tobacco smoking.
Q. Who smokes?
The poor people tend to be the majority of smokers in the country.
I don’t know why but they smoke. Boys tend to smoke more than girls.
Q. Why is that so?
Tobacco is marketed in such a way that attracts the youth. It is marketed using girls.
Therefore boys will see the adverts and see it as a cool habit.
Q. Let us talk about Tobacco advertising.
Botswana does not allow tobacco advertising in the local media, but it allows Newspapers from outside to find their way here. Why?
The current laws of Botswana do not prohibit newspapers from outside to enter into our country.
Botswana must start talking to her neighbours.
Newspapers with tobacco adverts must not cross our borders.
Q. How does smoking affect an individual?
Boys and girls live together and in most cases they smoke together.
Those who smoke sometimes don’t even complete their studies.
Boys who smoke do not produce good sperms while girls on the other hand would give birth to deformed children.
Q. Economically does it affect the smoker?
Most smokers do not have money.
In a nutshell it breeds poverty.
Government has to focus on implementing a law that will prohibit the sales of single cigarettes on the streets or ultimately stop the sale of cigarettes from vendors.
In that way it will help people to stop smoking.
As it is we have people buying cigarettes on credit.
We demanded a 30% increase in cigarettes levy and we got it.
The levy is to make cigarettes inaccessible to the youth and poor people.
Q. It seems there is nothing good about smokers.
The good news is that 70% of smokers want to quit but they don’t know how.
If you assisted such a person and motivated them they probably would quit.
Q. Is marijuana dangerous too?
It is an illegal drug. It is believed to have some health benefits if taken responsibly.
Some countries have legalised it on a pilot basis.
Q. Would you advocate for marijuana to be legalized in Botswana?
I have no opinion on that. That decision must be made after a research has been done to justify such a decision.
If we legalise it we must first check if that will benefit our society. I am still following the debate.
Q. Does your family support you in this fight of tobacco control?
My family is very supportive of my work.
They are always there for me and give me the necessary support.
Q. How do you relax?
I go to the gym. I play good music.
Oh! By the way I love dancing to good music.
The only music I don’t connect to is kwasa-kwasa.
Q. You look stunning too, do you eat red meat?
I am just an ordinary Motswana. I eat red meat.
However, on weekends I prefer to eat either tripe (mogodu) or seswaa with pap.
Q. Feel Good it’s Friday what are you up to?
I am just a family person.
I will be spending my time with my daughter watching The wild series on Tv.