New Naswar Chewers
U.S. troops in Afghanistan are deprived of the support of their loved ones and exposed to the most brutal, unpredictable and dreadful world of guns, weapons and bombs. For them cigarettes and various forms of smokeless tobacco serve as an alternate source
Although cigarette smoking has lost its appeal to a great extent, the fact that it is no longer considered a fashion continues to be a debatable issue. This is mainly due to the wide acceptance by both the genders and by persons of every age. One can definitely blame the advertisements and the media for promoting a smoking culture. But U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, returning to their homes with a Naswar addiction, have completely different reasons for becoming a prey to substance abuse.
While the WHO celebrates the World No Tobacco Day this month and advocates for effective policies to reduce consumption, Afghanistan continues to be not only the production chamber of smokeless tobacco, but also a breeding ground for drug addicts. Naswar, also known as Nass or Niswar, is one of the most common types of smokeless tobacco in Afghanistan. Naswar primarily consists of tobacco leaves, wood ash and calcium oxide. But as it is a homemade product, locals tend to add ingredients such as cotton, sesame oil and sometimes even gum to it.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan are not only deprived of the support of their loved ones, but are also exposed to the most brutal, unpredictable and dreadful world of guns, weapons and bombs. Under these circumstances, cigarettes and all other forms of smokeless tobacco serve as an alternate source of comfort. Smokeless tobacco like Nas-
war does have the potential to relieve the level of stress and anxiety. Moreover, the U.S. troops when surrounded by a smoking culture where consuming Naswar to get high is considered a mundane issue, find it hard to resist the temptation. Those who are not in it to reduce their stress, eventually find themselves being tempted to use it out of sheer boredom.
Some time back, the U.S. adopted a law called the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT). The Act aimed at cutting down the revenues of the Taliban earned by the tobacco trade. The law prevents tobacco smuggling by mail. But the Act became a target of constant protests as it also restrained families and friends of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from sending them Naswar through mail. Naswar was perhaps the only source of comfort that they could readily provide to their dear ones in Afghanistan. So there were loud and persistent protests in the U.S. against this Act. And all that hue and cry did not go in vain. It resulted in Senator Herb Kohl’s introduction of an amendment in the Act which ensured an exemption for the military personnel.
But there are still many who believe that the PACT could have brought a significant change in the soldiers’ smoking and chewing habits, and perhaps would have contributed in creating a tobacco free military. Studies have shown that Naswar can be more hazardous than cigarettes, causing lung, mouth and stomach cancers. The World Health Organisation rates tobacco use as the second cause of death globally (after hypertension). It is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide.
War in Afghanistan is referred to as ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. The U.S. government is of the opinion that transition will take some years. But weighing the dreadful ramifications to attain that freedom or transition should also be taken into account. Their own soldiers are dying. Many had to undergo amputations and thousands are a victim of PTSD and severe mental trauma, which has often permanently deformed their personalities. Moreover, a large number of soldiers return home as drug addicts. Aren’t these piled up issues ample proof of the need to end this fruitless war immediately?
War does not just refer to the conflict between two countries in martial terms but it also has the power to bring about changes in social behavior of even the invading party. War in Afghanistan, with Naswar chewing Americans, is an eloquent proof of this phenomenon. The writer is a journalist and researcher at Geo.