Many Nigerians in America will be familiar with the neighborhood Joe’s Market, a grocery franchise specializing in the sale of West Indian and West African food items. I was in one of these stores recently lugging my basket around. Tropicana…can’t survive a day without my orange juice. Gari wrapped in transparent plastic, Milo, fried dried rippling plantain otherwise known as “igbekere”, one Africa Calling Card for my guest from Nigeria… (Didn’t let him know I had direct dial on the phone!). Yam…two expensive tubers of questionable weight. I cast my mind back to the days of long fat pieces of yam that lined the junction of Benson Street in Surulere. Ah, those were the days!
An interesting drama unfolded before my eyes.
A white woman entered. She identified herself as a health officer and went on to congratulate the Chinese girls manning the two machines for “passing” a test she’d secretly conducted. We all stared at her like she was something out of a Kafka or Vonnegurt novel. Our cynical looks changed to wonderment when she explained she’d sent an under-aged kid into the store a moment earlier to see if the patrons would sell cigarettes to him. They passed because they didn’t.
Ah! The wonders and thoroughness of the American system! In Nigeria, the girls would have sold the cigarettes to the kid. Jeeze, in Nigeria, we specialize in sending the youngest ones around to buy the smoke and beer! It is a cultural thing. The youngest person around runs all the dirty errands. I am not saying cigarette smoking is dirty. I mean, do you need me to say that? It is actually beyond dirty. It is vile. Still, very few people smoke in Nigeria.
America today is in a lot of trouble due to cigarette addiction. The court system is perpetually awarding smokers billions of dollars for an addiction they walked into with their eyes wide open. Many parents beg or yell at their kids not to start the habit, but they can’t seem to lead by example. The power of the puff is just a little too much. The kids hardly listen anyway!
According to publicly available reports, a billion packs of cigarettes get to teenagers annually. That is a frightening figure. Kids’ access to cigarettes is especially worrisome because it is considered an introductory addiction. It is usually responsible for opening the highway to the heaven or hell of other dependencies that soon cascade in, begging for immediate attention.
I look at some of the laughable adverts running on American television purportedly designed to dissuade children from smoking. You know them. The “I ask them” series of ads. You ask them what? Are you a smoker already, kiddo? Sure, they’ll tell you the truth. Please. You stop smoking and they will too. You lead by example and they will follow. But who am I to get judgmental, huh? We don’t puff the grass in Nigeria, but we have our vices, don’t we? We puff power and corruption and confusion! Someone should shut me up before I put my size 12 in it!