A renowned judge delicately picks up a cigar, takes a puff, holds in the smoke and exhales. It’s at a party of middle-aged men and women who have made it in society and are celebrating a promotion by puffing cigars slowly and in a cool manner as is the rule.
Cigar smoking is becoming a trend among the rich, middle class and the young and impressionable with high-end bars and restaurants setting aside lounges to cater for this growing clientele.
But a majority of those who fashionably hold the fat tobacco-stick do not classify themselves as smokers, saying that theirs is an occasional habit and they do not inhale the smoke. They taste the aroma and puff out the smoke.
Doctors, however, warn that effects of cigar smoking are the same as those of cigarettes, pipes and so is the addiction.
Dr Peter Munyu, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital, said there is a lot of misinformation about cigars and shisha; and it is deliberate so that people feel secure when smoking.
Cigar is used in two ways; it can be chewed or smoked, he said, adding that it’s a small step between chewing on the end of a lit or unlit stick and smoking it. ‘‘Tobacco is tobacco and cigar smokers are predisposed to oral cancers and other health complications,’’ Dr Munyu said.
Cigar smoking also causes death from heart disease, a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association notes. What’s more, the smoke from cigars may be more toxic because of high concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines which are produced during the leaves fermentation process.
In Kenya, consumption of cigars and cigarillos is still low compared to cigarettes, but as disposable incomes grow, more are picking the habit.
The habit was previously common among older men, but young Kenyans are lighting up cigars following endorsement by celebrities and the rich depicting them as symbols of luxury and successful lifestyle.
Already, the practice is attracting attention as high-end restaurants organise ‘‘blind cigar tasting parties’’ where one gets to smoke different types from Cuba to Hondurus, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Marketers are also positioning it alongside cognac, rum and fine whisky and courting women smokers with ladies-only tasting events as they give them a ‘‘secure place to smoke, away from the public eye.’’
On Facebook, cigar sellers market their finest while teaching newbies how to develop a palate for rich flavour and how to puff to avoid quick tar build-up.
For now, the high pricing of these products — upwards of Sh4,500 a stick to Sh50,000 a packet — has limited their distribution.
But the rapid expansion of upmarket shopping centres has provided opportunities for distributors to set up retail outlets such as Smoke Shop Africa which led in cigars and cigarillos sales last year with a retail volume share of 32 per cent, according to Euromonitor International. Others include Scandinavian Tobacco Group A/S and Dannemann Cigarrenfabrik GmbH.
As the Health ministry toughens the smoking laws to remove the glamour from holding a cigarette stick, the cigar craze raises fears of increasing the number of smokers. About 2.5 million Kenyan adults use tobacco, according to the 2014 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Kenya.
The government, through the Tobacco Control Act 2007, has regulated the smoking of pipes, cigarettes and cigars in public and controlled advertising.
Prof Peter Odhiambo, the head of Tobacco Control Board, said all tobacco products from snuff (smokeless tobacco), cigars, chewed tobacco to shisha fall under the umbrella of the new law.
However, what is holding the board from imposing penalties are appeals by cigarette makers.
Non-smokers at risk
‘‘This is a very ruthless industry because it is fuelling drug abuse. Once the law comes into force from September 26, our officers will target all these smoking joints,’’ Prof Odhiambo said.
The Tobacco Act prohibits smoking in restaurants, hotels, bars and residential houses where children are cared for. From end month, those holding cigar home parties, a growing trend to celebrate birthdays, baby showers and even baptisms, risk a fine not exceeding Sh50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.
Aside from the penalties, exposure to cigar smoke in bars or homes during parties puts non-smokers including children at risk. Smoking at home also exposes children to the habit which they deem as ‘‘cool’’, Dr Munyu said.
Also, owners of smoking zones which are not well-ventilated face penalties. The law stipulates that smoking zones be enclosed or sealed from the floor to roof.
Most cigar zones in Nairobi are, however, small spaces set aside at a corner and the smoke easily re-circulates exposing non-smokers to health risks.
Last month, the Health ministry introduced a law that will force cigarette manufactures to put gory images on packaging accompanied by health warnings. Cigars, however, come wrapped in dull ‘‘unattractive’’ colours. ‘‘What attracts many Kenyans is the status,’’ said Dr Munyu.
The biggest problem with tobacco is the addiction that makes smokers ignore the evident risk to their lives. Cigars, like cigarettes, have the same addiction risk. Also, the cigar is wrapped in three types of cured leaves to ensure a dynamic smoking experience, exposing one to higher levels of tobacco.
For men, the tobacco lowers their sperm count and libido. In women, smoking damages ovaries decreasing oestrogen production and leading to early menopause. In children, the second-hand smoke causes more frequent asthma attacks, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome.
‘‘Smoking causes weak erections or no erections at all,’’ said Dr Munyu in a previous interview. Also, smokers have more colds than non-smokers because their bodies are not as efficient at clearing out germs.