Inside the murky world of Nairobi’s smoking zones

The Kenyan government has cracked down on cigarettes with a ban on advertising and smoking in public, driving the habit into the shadows

There is a wooden shed in the middle of Nairobi city centre, dark, full of fumes, crowded and deliberately built beside the public toilets. It feels like a place of shame.

Jairus Masumba, Nairobi countys deputy director of public health, calls it in jest the gazebo. Its the public smoking place, created by his department. It is claustrophobic and filled with smoke, some of which drifts out through slats, but most of which hangs heavily in the fugged air inside.

Those who enter have to be desperate and theyre usually men. A 27-year-old woman, who comes from the south of Kenya, is a rarity. She is heavily made-up and stands in the doorway. She smokes seven to 10 cigarettes a day. Its bad for you, no? she says several times, though she knows the answer.

The men inside, barely visible as you enter because of the darkness and the fug, are smoking hard, standing up like a football crowd, all facing the same way though there is nothing to look at except the wooden slats of the far side of the shed. Music blares but nobody is dancing. They are grim faced, doing what they have to do. A young man, high probably on khat and cigarette in hand, chases some of the butts and the ash out with a broom, seeking money from the other smokers for cleaning up. He says he has a diploma in business marketing and another diploma in substance abuse counselling.

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A woman stands at a smoking zone in Nairobi, Kenya. Smoking openly on the street can incur a hefty fine. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

At the door are two cigarette sellers, doing a busy trade. Its rare for anyone to buy whole packets. Packs of cigarettes in Kenya are broken up and sold by vendors as single sticks. That makes them cheap for women, children and the poor, despite manufacturers being banned from producing packets of less than 10. One of the two sellers sitting passively inhaling smoke is a woman who taps a packet of 20 and shakes them deftly out, one at a time, exchanging them for small coins. Men buy one, sometimes a couple, sometimes three. They will not all be smoked here. The sellers sit at the large red wooden boxes, with open lids that become the display cabinet. Most popular and cheapest is Sportsman at 100 shillings a pack (75p, 97 cents) or 5 shillings (less than 4p, 5 cents) for a single. Smokers buy sweets too, to take away the smell of tobacco when the worker goes back to the office.

Tobacco: a deadly business

The shed is vile, but few dare smoke even on the pavement outside in the cleaner air in the knowledge that the plain clothed official public health enforcers will be circling, ready to impose fines on anyone they catch. Nairobi city has got tough on smoking. The Kenyan government has banned advertising and marketing and smoking in public places, but it is up to the individual counties to interpret and enforce that and they all do it differently. Nairobi county has cracked down hard. Lighting up on the open street in the city centre can result in a stiff fine of 50,000 shillings (374, $485) or even arrest. But its not so everywhere, or even outside of the city centre.

deaths

Yusef, 58 and from Kenyas second city Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast, says people smoke openly in Mombasa. He has been smoking since the 1970s. His 28 year-old daughter died recently from colon cancer. That gives him a different perspective. Im more worried about GM foods, he says.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/12/nairobi-kenya-smoking-zones-cigarette-crackdown