Cigarettes and «hash» in Tunisia
Jalel El Gharbi - 11/11/2009
They are more 3,5 million smokers. They spend more than 100 dinars par month, that is, more than 1/5 of an average salary. They smoke at an increasingly young age. It is not impossible to hear that students smoke at primary school. In secondary schools and junior colleges, it is really a pandemic.
The result: they are more than 7000 to die of smoking in Tunisia. That is, an average of 20 persons a day.
Society is worried and the number of those mobilised to struggle against this flaw is increasing. This mobilisation enlists doctors, teachers, imams, artists and national organisations including the central syndicate (UGTT). The struggle against smoking has become a priority of the Ministry of National Education.
Nevertheless, smoking has a bright future in Tunisia.
Here, one can see government officials – sometimes in uniform - cigarette in mouth in offices where smoking is prohibited. I wonder whether they would accept it if a normal citizen would do that!
A TV serial shows a young lady who has succeeded in life celebrating by lighting a cigarette (I’m talking about one of these serials they diffuse during Ramadan). Thus cigarettes do not depict a sign of under-development and hookahs do not portray idleness; both are perceived as a sign of distinction, of success. Sometimes, cigarettes carry strong erotic connotations that they are extremely insidious. Another cigarette connotation: it proves that we are classy, elegant. Yet, it’s impossible to act against smoking without getting rid of all these connotations that influence young people. The country needs to review the cigarette’s symbolic as it is effective since the 1940’s and 1950’s.
People increasingly smoke cigarettes imported from France or the United States. At the tobacconists, the range of cigarette brand names has shrunk sharply: two or three local brand names, a French one and two or three American ones. Cheap cigarettes are not appropriate anymore. Smokers do not simply satisfy their needs but must also show their living standards. In return, cigarettes are more and more bought in retail. Everyone can buy them in retail anywhere. They are even sold to a five-year-old child. Cigarettes are undoubtedly the most available merchandise in Tunisia. Tobacconists can be found everywhere and some of them are even open 24 hours a day. No restriction seems to be effective.
To what does the act of smoking respond? What is the reason behind this Tunisian craze that places the country at the forefront of Arab countries?
The repentant ex-smoker that I am believes that smoking responds to the need to need. In other words, smoking responds to an immeasurable lack of something. Socially speaking, this means that the flaw is the answer to a country where one is young, with few resources and facing a relentless consumption model. Smoking seems to be the answer to frustrated desires. An idle answer since one is able to spend the whole morning or afternoon smoking shisha.
Among the most disadvantaged backgrounds, smoking is a relatively inexpensive antidepressant.
Culturally, Tunisia should review the concept of hash that is wreaking havoc.
In Tunisian dialect “smoking” is “yitkaif” (coming from the word kif meaning hash). First of all, Kif is hash available over-the-counter under the French occupation!
It was a state of passivity, of indifference coupled with an acute sensitivity to pleasure menus, those that the Swiss writer Nicolas Bouvier calls "modest pleasures," that is to say, namely: the coffee, the glass of Boukha, the song of a bird, a carnation, a bouquet of jasmine. Something not far from the Epicurean ataraxia. The writer Albert Memmi defines the word: “Kif is a state of mind. A chair in the shade at the end of the siesta when the heat becomes imperceptibly freshness; at dusk when the colours slowly change into night. This old man sitting on the terrace of the Café du Phare in front of the immense sea, whom I found in the same place that evening: was he delighted by infinity or was he beyond pleasures? Is Kif (hash) what is beyond?”
Kif is the drunkenness found through other means, and the most noted one is the cigarette.
It’s the content of the word "kif" that must change in Tunisia. For example: replace the carnation that we pluck by the carnation that we plant, the man sitting on the terrace doing nothing by the same man holding a book, replace the bouquet of jasmine by the reed pen.
A cultural transformation is needed so that Tunisia will no longer count over 80% of smokers among students in secondary school and in order to decrease the rumblings of hookahs.
Translated by Elizabeth Grech