She sits down, apparently stressed from the day’s activities, methodically brings out a lighter and systematically lights the other end of the marijuana which they popularly call “cigarette”, takes a long pull at it and then puffs it out through her nose and mouth as the smoke forms a miniature cloud over her head. It is apparent that this is not her first time.
She drags again; this time, the pull is longer, even as she holds on to the smoke within the confines of her mouth a little longer than normal. By the time she lets it go, the escape route is her nostrils and she does it in such a frightening manner, that an onlooker would think she was on fire.
At a club, deep in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Disc Jockey (DJ) gets into full gear as he blasts out mostly Nigerian hit songs, dancers gyrate as if they are taken over by a force out of this world, few empty seats abound as the air is peppered by burning cigarettes and marijuana choke.
“Bros! Why you dey look me like say I chop your money or you never see woman before?” a lady quipped in Pidgin English. Interestingly, you would think she was a “free woman”, as this reporter would later find out, she works with one of the nation’s financial institutions.
The prevalence of female smokers seems to be lower than their male counterparts, recent studies has however indicated that the number of females engaging in the act is on the increase, especially among young females in the elite class.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently sounded the alarm over the increasing global trend of smoking among the female folk. According to the international organisation, out of the 5.4 million victims that die every year, a staggering 1.5 million are girls and women.
Hitherto, smoking for either gender, was considered a taboo in most cultures in Nigeria. However, with ‘civilisation’ and migration, people have become tolerant to male smokers, especially if you are an adult and smoking away from people. Tell-tale has it that strangers can be united by the need for a smoke.
Surprisingly, the female folk seem to be catching up with this ‘civilisation’, as observed with the rate of smoking which is gradually on the increase among ladies. The trend seems to be more in urban cities including the FCT where some of these ladies use it as a class symbol to show their level of exposure to foreign cultures and influence. Some however engage in the act as a way of escaping societal pressure and past times.
The recent study also indicated that there are more than 13 million active cigarette smokers, out of which about 1.5million are women. This, furthermore buttresses the fact that consumption of tobacco is gaining foothold among Nigerian women, especially the young ones.
On the world stage, reports even paint a grimmer picture that out of the more than one billion smokers, 250 million are women and about 5.5 percent of them die annually from ailments arising from smoking. Despite this scary analysis highlighting the dangers associated with tobacco consumption, young women are neck deep and if care is not taken, they may out smoke their male counterparts.
More recently, female consumers of narcotic substances seem to be more daring in nightclubs and parties where the sale and consumption is often celebrated. A visit to some clubs and gardens in the nation’s capital will reveal a lot about the increasing rate of young women warming up to the vice.
A lady, who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, disclosed that not only does she smoke, she has been using marijuana for years now, to give her the kind of ‘high’ she needs and also to help ease the trauma she feels after being abused by an uncle several years ago.
She said “Don’t always judge smokers, or categorise all female smokers as being loose, because you don’t have an idea of what they have and are going through. In my case for instance, I never tasted cigarette before I started smoking ‘Igbo.”
“I was a young girl when my uncle, who was staying at our house, forced himself on me but rather than my parents taking a drastic measure on him, I was accused of seducing him. I was blamed for everything and stigmatised. From the time I went to the university, I took to the habit and have never looked back, neither have I ever gone home again. I hope to stop someday” she says.
For another, it is a story of a love gone sour. This lady says “I was working in a bank and at the same time, I was dating a man for quite a while and at a stage, he proposed marriage, to which I consented. But along the line, I discovered he was also dating another lady.”
“When I confronted him, he denied it. By the time I realised what was actually going on, he withdrew all my money in the bank and ran away. Till this very moment, I have not set my eyes on him.”
“To cushion the effect of the sad incident, I started smoking “Igbo”. I am not justifying this habit”.
As she stands up to go, she quickly adds: “my brother, ‘nah condition make crayfish bend.”
A keen observation showed that from 6:30pm, when these ladies are on their back way from work, they can be seen packing their cars by the road side and beckoning on the vendors of these substance and after collecting it, off they go.
While peer pressure still tops as the factor responsible for luring people to smoking substances, more ladies tend to pick up the habit to fight depression.
A teenager who opened up said, “I never imagined myself smoking before now. I used to hate the smell. But I found out that I am the only one not smoking among my friends. I had to start to fill among. I started with cigarettes, now I take weed.”
When asked if her parents are aware, she retorted, “Who wan tell them?”
Findings revealed that while men smoke to feel alert and vigorous, women smoke because they find it relaxing. Nicotine and weed are said to promote aggression in men while it has a calming effect on women.
With the increased death rate owing to tobacco and weed smoking, the Nigerian government years ago, came up with a campaign against the vice. Tobacco companies were then directed to include a caveat, ‘Smokers are liable to die young’ in all cigarette adverts while smoking of weed was completely outlawed.
Whether or not these campaigns have yielded the necessary results, remains to be seen, as the number of smokers seems to be on the increase, to the extent that young women have also joined the increasing ranks of this ‘smoking’ generation.