PUFF, PUFF DON’T PASS
By: Lethu Nxumalo
As cosmopolitan as we have become through subscription to dominant western cultures, there are things that black women in their social circles know are still culturally forbidden and frowned upon.
Some are the unspoken and unwritten rules that define their culture thus sealing the valued and high moral upbringing with a stamp of approval if the young women manage to steer clear of. Making their parent’s hearts smile also serves as assurance for a job well done.
Smoking is high on the list of the forbidden. It is a deadly sin to the elderly and has potential to remain on that list as long as we are black.
Michael Mbomvu, 83-year-old pensioner said, “In the olden days, many women smoked Inqawe (pipe) when we were growing up in the rural areas. It was socially accepted then and none of the men in the villages seemed to mind. I for one was against it growing up. Today, seeing young women openly smoking cigarettes, to me means disrespect. I would not want any of my grandsons to marry a woman who smokes.”
Sthabiso Mdledle, a smoker and student in Durban from the rural Mandawe in the South Coast said, “Well (I) am very angry. I have anger issues that drove me from being a non-smoker to a chimney. It started as a stress reliever, not that it relieves stress, and it helped me forget. It’s (cigarette) like my best friend; it’s always there when I need it.”
Aware of the “unspoken and unwritten” cultural codes she added, “Smoking black women are viewed as cheap and promiscuous. We are associated with bad behaviour and often it is said we lack morals. Sometimes the labels go as far as Jezebels and we are likened to the ladies of the night.”
When Lindiwe Mazibuko’s freakum dress made it to parliament early last year, it was particularly uncomfortable and most women felt embarrassed for her because there are times and places for such ensembles. Those who cringed felt that her freakum should never have shown face to a parliamentary debate and that’s how strongly other women feel when it comes to black women and the cancerous stick.
Sithembiso Okoye, HR Officer at one of the prestigious aviation companies in Johannesburg agrees with the elderly. “I think it looks unattractive and I feel black women smoke because their white counterparts do it and it looks cool. It is a stinky habit, literally. The stink stays on your breath, in your hair and your clothes. It just doesn’t look right, something we are not accustomed to as black women.”
Most modern black women will argue and say these are sexist and primitive views especially because times have changed. Today, South African black women have the equal right to exercise and express how they feel, the right to do what makes one happy without being judged.
Xolisile Mbomvu, a qualified nurse feels to every person should feel free to do and make decisions that make them happy. “As much as there are health risks involved, everyone should feel free to do what makes them happy regardless of gender and race. I for one feel it is important for those who still hold primitive views on the conduct of black women should adapt to the times. Who wrote those rules anyway?”
Women.Smokefree.gov is an American website that intends to help women to quit smoking and is designed to provide information about topics that are of importance to women. The site has listed the following as some of the dangers of smoking in women:
Decreased bone density
Women who smoke have a higher chance of breaking a hip compared to those who do not smoke
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory, chronic disease. People with Rheumatoid Arthritis have swelling and pain in their joints.
Cataracts are an eye disease where the lens of the eye is cloudy or foggy.
Gum disease may lead to bone and tooth loss.
Smokers with gum disease are also more likely to get ulcers in the stomach, which can lead to death.
Women who smoke have worse survival rates after surgery. They’re also more likely to have complications and poorer wound healing than non-smokers.
Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to go through menopause at a younger age, and they may have worse symptoms of menopause.
Women who smoke may have a harder time falling pregnant. They also have a higher chance of losing their baby before it is born. Studies show there is an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, also called “crib death” in babies born to women smokers.
Teen girls who smoke have lungs that don’t grow as much as non-smokers’ lungs, and adult women who smoke have lungs that don’t work as well as non-smokers’ lungs.
With all the health risks and cultural disapprovals, Siphele Mchunu, a professional in the hospitality industry says smoking should not be an issue. “As a black man, I would certainly marry a woman who smokes. Why is (it) made an issue when it should just be about love? Even if my family disapproved, I would go ahead with it.”