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Substance abuse is one of the escalating challenges Zambia faces today. With an increase in the number of cases being addressed by the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) to curb the vice, a new undocumented substance commonly known as “insuko” or snuff tobacco has found its resting place in our society, spreading harmful effects amongst the Zambian people. 

The practice of using snuff has over the years been a common practice among women, and raises concern due to its numerous side effects. Snuff is a tobacco product which is dried and finely ground. It has for a long time been the preserve of the elderly women who used it as a cure for headaches. Snuff comes in both moist and dry varieties. Many women believe that the coarse powder helps stimulate their sexual drive, while also tightening their genitals and making them more sexually desirable to men.

While some men also use snuff, more women are now using it and many are becoming addicted. A recent investigation by The Daily Vox of South Africa established that though snuff is smokeless, it is addictive and dangerous. The World Health Organization warns that snuff causes oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer. 

“Young women have become so desperate to please men to a point that they would insert something so toxic into their genitals, and sadly they aren’t even aware of the dangers associated with the substance,” the Daily Vox observed in one of its publications. It also established that the sexual claims associated with snuff are myths and women who use it intra-vaginally risk contracting cervical cancer. Using snuff also raises the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and mouth diseases. 

Despite all these threats to health, the rate at which women are buying and using this drug in Zambia is alarming. In Lusaka, women are allegedly buying the tobacco product from Masai hairdressers, who distribute the product from their salons, with sachets costing between K1 and K10.

This is a serious call for concern as other rumors have surfaced that some Masai mix the insunko with marijuana commonly known as ‘dagga’ or ‘chamba’, creating a concoction different from what our grandmothers used to consume. It is assumed that insunko boosts it makes their bodies warm, while others say the drug dries the water in their bodies and women’s immune systems and it is good for maintaining normal blood pressure. Others feel that enhances their libido. However, chronic use of the substance can also lead to tooth loss and the body becoming heavily dependent on it. 

The abuse of this tobacco product should not be taken lightly. Use of the product has become so common that women share it at kitchen parties, weddings and other social gatherings. This is a matter that requires the utmost concern, and overcoming of ignorance. Various individuals and organizations spend their lifetime advocating for the prevention of cancer of the cervix, with large sums of money being invested whilst society is turning a blind eye to one of its causes.

The rampant use of insunko among women is of great concern and needs to be controlled. However, the problem of insunko is not restricted to Zambian women alone, in neighboring countries such as South Africa, women have been found to also use smokeless tobacco. 

The University Teaching Hospital (UTH) has warned women on the dangers of sniffing tobacco, as it places them at a high risk of contracting cancer and other diseases. However, even with all the aforementioned risks and side effects that can be experienced, it is sad to note that some people are still using insunko for means of sexual enhancement largely due to ignorance.

Therefore, there is need for the DEC and other stakeholders to intervene and put in place cautionary measures to curb this destructive vice, by raising awareness on the dangers of this undocumented substance in order to preserve the health and dignity of our Zambian women.

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