Moroto district has witnessed alarming rates of tobacco use among people aged 10 and above over the last two years, according to a report by Makerere University School of Public Health. A research team surveyed Nadunget Seed Secondary School, Moroto Parents SS, Apostles of Jesus Seminary, St Mary’s School, Moroto High School, and within the community in three phases between May 2021 and March 2022 with support from Makerere University Research and Innovations fund.
The 2023 report by Makerere University of Public Health revealed that approximately 4% of in-school and 10% of out-of-school youths have experimented with smoking, with many starting before the age of 15. Men show higher tobacco use rates compared to women. Deputy Dean Elizeus Rutebemberewa from Makerere University School of Public Health highlighted peer influence as a significant factor initiating tobacco use among youth both in and out of school.
Rutebemberewa emphasized the importance of engaging various entities such as tobacco cessation agents, health workers, church leaders, and NGOs to support health promotion campaigns addressing tobacco’s detrimental effects.
Furthermore, teachers expressed interest in training to assist students in quitting tobacco. Some suggested increasing tobacco product prices, while others urged tobacco companies to sponsor school activities as deterrents to youth purchasing tobacco. ‘’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,” the teachers explained.
John Achia, Moroto district secretary for production, acknowledged the prevalence of alcoholism in the region and noted the challenge in dissuading people from tobacco use due to its cultural significance. Achia highlighted the necessity of educating communities about the health risks associated with all tobacco products, as many traditionally believe that only smoking cigarettes poses health threats.
Dr. James Lemukol, the Moroto District Health Officer, emphasized the deeply ingrained cultural use of tobacco and the difficulty in altering this norm. He stressed the urgent need for health promotion campaigns to disseminate information about the risks of tobacco abuse.
Lemukol noted the concerning rise in respiratory diseases, especially drug-resistant tuberculosis, possibly exacerbated by the shared practice of tobacco sniffing.
Data from UBOS (2015/17, 2018) revealed 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 shows a high prevalence of tobacco use among individuals aged 10 to 24, with 12% in school and 25.3% out-of-school youth affected.