By Fadzayi Ndangana
Vaping, the act of inhaling vaporized substances through electronic cigarettes or similar devices, has gained popularity worldwide in recent years. Zimbabwe, a country known for its rich cultural heritage and agricultural prowess, is not exempt from this trend. While vaping may seem like a modern and harmless alternative to traditional smoking, it raises concerns about its impact on public health, youth, and the economy.
Vaping has gained traction among the Zimbabwean population, particularly among the younger generation. The availability of various flavored e-liquids and sleek vaping devices has contributed to its appeal. The perception that vaping is less harmful than traditional smoking and the misconception that it can aid in smoking cessation have further fueled its popularity.
While the long-term health effects of vaping are still being studied, there is growing evidence suggesting potential risks. E-cigarettes often contain nicotine, which can lead to addiction and adverse health effects, particularly in adolescents. Additionally, the inhalation of harmful chemicals and toxins present in e-liquids may pose respiratory and cardiovascular risks.
One of the most significant concerns surrounding vaping in Zimbabwe is its impact on the youth. The appealing flavors, aggressive marketing tactics, and the misconception that vaping is harmless have made it attractive to adolescents. This raises concerns about the initiation of nicotine addiction at an early age, leading to potential long-term consequences for their health and well-being.
Tobacco harm reduction proponent and Director of Action on Smoking and Health UK Clive Bates argues that by making e-cigarettes less accessible or expensive, the unintended consequence will be that people will resort to the more harmful combustible tobacco cigarettes.
Based on the findings of a 2021 San Francisco study that showed increased teenage smoking following a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes, Clive Bates therefore recommends non-smoking products such as e-cigarettes to reduce smoking in young people.
While scientists agree that vaping is less harmful than combustible cigarette smoking, it is however not risk free.
A tobacco researcher Michael Russell said that ‘people smoke for the nicotine but die from the tar’.
“Nicotine is not the chemical that causes the health risks associated with combustible cigarette smoking.”
Tar and other toxic gases that are released from burning tobacco when people smoke are the causes of cigarette smoking effects such as serious illness and death from lung cancer and heart disease.
Nicotine is dangerous not because it causes cancer but because it creates the addiction to cigarettes.
A recent study by the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network revealed that young women with addiction to drugs face unique challenges and vulnerabilities which require specialised care and support.
“Stigma, discrimination and marginalisation often compound the health and social consequences they experience. Women who use drugs are at a higher risk of experiencing GBV, including sexual violence, due to factors such as coercion, exploitation, and engagement in risky behaviours to sustain their drug use. All this leads to high levels of mental health problems and self-stigma, limited access to health services and consequently more negative health outcomes. Therefore, addressing the specific needs of this population is essential to break the cycle of drug use and GBV,” partly read the report.
The rising popularity of vaping also has economic implications for Zimbabwe. The sale and importation of vaping products generate revenue, but it is essential to consider the potential costs associated with the healthcare burden caused by vaping-related illnesses. As the healthcare system faces additional strain, it becomes crucial to strike a balance between economic considerations and public health measures to mitigate the negative consequences.
In an interview with Zim Morning Post, Harare Residents Trust Director Precious Shumba said the problem is that young people are obsessed with following lifestyles from mass media models, especially from the western world.
“This has forced our school children and other youths to desire to fit in with their groups, thus it has become fashionable and something that they want to be. It is unfortunate that a lot of the children have no idea how this affects their own personality and social behaviour in the medium to long term. They have the risk of developing heart problems, especially if they become hooked to smoking. Nicotine has this effect of forcing someone to be dependent on it, thus can cause serious depression and anxiety among the users,” he said.
Shumba highlighted that vaping is a serious social phenomenon that requires the collective intervention of policymakers, the Church, the police, local educational institutions and the youths to try to find a lasting solution.
By implementing comprehensive strategies that encompass education, regulation, and support, Zimbabwe can effectively address the challenges posed by vaping. It is through collective efforts and a multi-faceted approach that the harmful consequences of vaping can be minimized, ensuring a healthier future for all Zimbabweans.