Moroto district has experienced a surge in tobacco consumption among individuals aged 10 and above in the past two years, according to a report released by Makerere University School of Public Health.
The study, conducted in three phases between May 2021 and March 2022, enlisted Nadunget Seed Secondary School, Moroto Parents SS, Apostles of Jesus Seminary, St Mary’s School, Moroto High School, and the local community, with support from Makerere University Research and Innovations fund.
The 2023 Makerere University School of Public Health report disclosed that about 4% of students and 10% of those not attending school have experimented with smoking, with a significant number initiating tobacco use before turning 15.
The prevalence is higher among men compared to women. Deputy Dean Elizeus Rutebemberewa stressed peer influence as a major catalyst for youth tobacco use, both within and outside educational institutions.
Rutebemberewa underscored the need to involve diverse stakeholders, including tobacco cessation agents, health professionals, religious leaders, and non-governmental organizations, in supporting health promotion campaigns that address the harmful effects of tobacco.
Furthermore, educators expressed a desire for training to help students quit tobacco. Some proposed raising tobacco prices, while others suggested that tobacco companies sponsor school activities to discourage youth from buying tobacco.
Teachers explained, “Among our students, first, in the school rules and regulations, we talk about the abuse of drugs, and tobacco is one of the things we try to emphasize. We are talking about tuberculosis, cancer, and some of the other things that happen after taking tobacco.”
John Achia, Moroto district secretary for production, acknowledged the prevalence of alcoholism in the region and recognized the difficulty of dissuading people from tobacco use due to its cultural significance. Achia stressed the importance of educating communities about the health risks associated with all tobacco products, dispelling the traditional belief that only smoking cigarettes poses health threats.
Dr. James Lemukol, the Moroto District Health Officer, highlighted the deeply ingrained cultural use of tobacco and the challenges in altering this norm. He emphasized the urgent need for health promotion campaigns to disseminate information about the risks of tobacco abuse.
Lemukol expressed concern about the rising cases of respiratory diseases, especially drug-resistant tuberculosis, potentially exacerbated by the prevalent practice of tobacco sniffing.
He remarked, “Our people sniff, and that’s culturally accepted. We need to tell our people about the dangers associated with tobacco use, especially when they sniff it because that is a big act popularizing it.”
In the cultural context, Eve highlighted the increased risk of drug-resistant tuberculosis due to tobacco use.
Data from UBOS (2015/17, 2018) indicated that 20% to 25% of patients with esophageal and lung cancers at the Uganda Cancer Institute had a history of tobacco use.
Moroto district notably exhibits a high prevalence of tobacco use among individuals aged 10 to 24, affecting 12% of those in school and 25.3% of out-of-school youth.