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On the school girls smoking shisha BY Chika Unigwe

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This week, a video of five female students of Oreyo Senior Grammar School, Igbogbo Ikorodu, Lagos State, smoking shisha in what is presumably a private home went viral. In the video, the students are in school uniform, so they either sneaked out of school or they are day students who detoured after school to someone’s place for a hookah smoking session rather than return home.

I  read somewhere that the girls have been suspended. I have never been in favour of removing students from the classroom unless they are violent (and/or disruptive). Suspensions (and expulsions) are often not effective forms of punishment (for reasons I do not have the space to get into here).

I also read recently  in the Vanguard that the Lagos State Government has “waded into the viral video…with the order for the rehabilitation of the identified pupils.” I am happy with the swift response of the state government (that is assuming that the rehabilitation involves educating them on the dangers they expose themselves to when they are where they shouldn’t be and doing what they shouldn’t be doing, and also involves letting them know the health risks of hookah usage).  I am delighted the girls are going to be offered help but rehabilitation (as long as it involves what I think it does)  doesn’t, in my opinion, go far enough. Plus, there are more people involved than the five we see in the video. Of course there are.

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First of all, someone was filming them.  This ‘someone’ is probably a person they are comfortable with because in the video, what we see of their faces through the cloud of smoke is relaxed. One or two are even smiling. One throws a peace sign at the camera. The cameraperson is culpable too. The newspaper article makes note of five pupils being identified and punished , so maybe the person filming isn’t a student. They are possibly older, likely an adult. If you get your kick from filming school girls in uniform inhaling and exhaling smoke, what else are you capable of?

Furthermore, those students were in someone’s home who may or may not be the same as the person filming. If that person, as I suspect,  is an adult- because the newspaper reports have been of five students and no more-  they probably helped with getting the hookah, and probably actively encouraged the girls to smoke. If this person is a grownup, it is possible that their ‘grooming’ isn’t limited to just these five students. How many more young people are they  encouraging , and in how many different  ways to “have fun”?

Some Nigerians commenting on the video have blamed the school. I agree with them on that. Unless the girls are day students who left at the end of the day or during recess, I am curious about how they were able to leave school unnoticed. It’s been years since I was in secondary school in Nigeria but I cannot imagine how I could/would have left the school compound unnoticed , in school uniform, on a school day. Do these schools have no security? Did the girls get help from within the school to leave? So many questions, so few answers, so many opinions.

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However, what isn’t an opinion but a fact is that shisha smoking isn’t safe, although there seems to be many people who believe that it is, people who think that because it is flavoured, it cannot be harmful. This is one of  the most compelling reasons (young )people are drawn to it.  This failure to recognise that its usage is a health risk isn’t limited to Nigeria. In the US, in 2018, 1 in 13 12th graders (SS3) had smoked shisha. A 2019 study by the Journal of Community Health showed a rise in its usage among college students. Yet, according  to the American Lung Association “at least  82 toxic chemicals and carcinogens have been identified in hookah smoke.” Additionally, “Although the smoke passes through water, this does not eliminate the hazardous, addictive chemicals released from the tobacco.” The journal also warns  that “the combustion of charcoal used to heat hookah tobacco may pose additional health risks, since this combustion process produces dangerous substances such as carbon monoxide, metals, and other chemicals.”

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Smoking shisha increases the risk of oral cancer, lung cancer and heart diseases. Plus exchanging saliva with multiple people, sharing one pipe  which isn’t cleaned properly (or cleaned at all between uses) is never a good idea. Herpes, syphilis and other infectious diseases can be passed on from person to person. And in a pandemic especially, sharing a pipe can be the kiss of death.

What I would like to see happen in this case is this: if there are  adults involved, that they are identified and punished, and the suspended students brought back into the classroom. Whatever punishment the school girls  are given should not have them out of the classroom and missing lessons any more than they already have. Finally, the government needs to do more than “wade in with the order of rehabilitation.” There needs to be an awareness campaign  in schools (all levels) and  elsewhere to let these young ones know the risks they are taking using hookah. This is a matter of urgency. Consistent messaging of the dangers of smoking shisha will likely prove a much bigger deterrent than anything else. Just my own two kobo but what do I know?

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