I can hardly remember when I was a child, living in a poverty-striken district of Ghazni province. People all had miserable times and they were struggling daily to survive of hunger and starvation. One day, one of my elder classmates came to us and asked to collect all our pocket money. I am sure we were five students and put all our money together, but the amount was hardly enough to buy some chocolates or chewing gums, which children cherished the most those times, perhaps even now. As rule we had to buy chewing gums or chocolates, but we decided not to. We bought two single pine cigarettes and smoked all together. And one of our fellows, while smoking expertly, was posing and telling that it was his tenth time that he was smoking.
Smoking looks more like using of luxury goods among Afghan youngsters, particularly among those who try to act like "street strippers or scoundrels". It has been most similar to prevalence of weapons in the country once. Brandishing weapon was a style during decades of civil war. Everybody used to freely carry weapons and unnecessarily fire pointlessly here and there. There were people who were carrying more than a single weapon—along with Russian Kalashnikov carrying hand guns too. Marriage ceremonies were mostly celebrated by firings into air. God forbid if the ceremony was from a so-called don and leader of the village, people used to fire rockets!
Anyhow, today along with lack of political consciences and economic poverty; we struggle with widespread illiteracy and cultural backwardness, which are the root causes of increasing addictions of all types. According to statements of officials of Ministry of Health, daily 44 ton cigarettes are imported to the country which cost ten million Afghani ($200,000). And sixteen percent of Kabul residents are cigarette addicts, the number which will increase to 24 percent in next five years unless severe and efficiently preventive measures are held.
This is not the only problem. Cigarette smoking is the first step. And cigarette smokers exposed to drug consumption more than anyone else. However, there is no available data as far as I know to showcase the proportion of smokers and non-smokers who ultimately become drug addict. But indubitably the ground reality shows that the possibility of those who smoke to get opium or its products addiction is far larger than non-smokers.
Drug addiction has already gone far beyond control. And increasingly many more numbers are added to the already existing ones. Just walking to slums and dirty areas of Kabul and other big cities, we can clearly draw a grim picture from the prospective of Afghan youth. All efforts made by government yet failed to bring fundamental change in opium and cultivation and its manufacturing. Because currently due to prevalence of warfare condition, government and NGOs mostly adopt a military approach towards everything, including opium and other cultural dilemma.
Frequently, I have written and I am insisting again and again that addiction would be a humanitarian tragedy and brings about various social crimes. And how institutions and influential people, particularly, clergies remained shamefully silent against this tragic phenomenon that increasingly will bring about the collapse of the foundation of all holy institutions which they cry for, like family. If an actress of film appears, God forbid, with bikini on any private TV channels, all our traditionalists and clergies sputter and hurt their throat of shouting and shouting. But tens of thousands of Afghan youngsters use opium and its products, nobody cares at all, and seems that nothing has happened.
These people who are mindful of morals and morality do not notice that addiction is the principle cause of elimination of family, which according our respected clergies, is the most holy institution in a society. No one would be ready to marry his daughter to a person who is drug addict, and there are couples who are forced to divorce due to lack of money to provide the expense of essential goods along with their drug expenses. Moreover, addiction is an illness which should be treated. Addicts can hardly get jobs or start a family, which is the very foundation of social acceptance in Asian culture, particularly in conservative countries like Afghanistan. Singles hardly can accommodate even in relatively open and so-called democratic cities like Kabul because owners of the houses do not want to have bachelor lessees.
Anyway, however, cigarette addiction is not that bad as drugs. But statistics about growing percentage of smokers is worrisome. The spiraling number of cigarette addiction has various reasons. One of the reasons is low price of this injurious good. A medium quality packet of cigarette is sold in 15 Afghani which is extremely cheap in comparison to countries, for instance, India where the price of the packet with the same quality is more than hundred rupees.
To stop the unfettered level of addiction among youngsters, the Ministry of Finance levied 10 percent tax which is quite less to increase its price and prevent many to avoid smoking. Additionally, Health Ministry prohibited smoking in places like government offices, hotels and restaurants but the rule is rarely considered, and, seemingly, both measures have not succeeded to bring down the level of addiction among Afghan people.
There are social and cultural issues to be blamed. In cities like Kabul entertaining areas is less to meet the demands of residents, particularly youngsters. Both public and private parks are severely less, and if there are some, they are in a condition to provide peaceful environment for people. These days, Kabul youngsters in order to pass their time and enjoy in a gatherings of friends, they generally go to hotels, restaurants and motels, and smoke cigarettes and hookah. Right after dinner and lunch, the entire environment of some the hotel rooms are filled with smoke that people hardy make their way in or out. Such gatherings of youngsters in such places are the main cause of increasing cigarette addiction. Because in such gathering, if anybody avoids smoking, he would be blamed of childishness or not being cool. These derogatory statements cannot be tolerated and soon they will join the club of professional smokers.