Vaginal tobacco: A hidden health danger for women

Tobacco is an umbrella name given to over 70 species of plants in the genus nicotiana and the family Solanaceae. It is also used to refer to the cured leaves of these plants.

The active ingredients in tobacco are nicotine and harmine. The nicotine component in tobacco makes it addictive to its users.

Tobacco leaves are mainly smoked in cigarettes, cigars and shisha. They are also chewed or taken as snuff.

‘Vaginal tobacco’ as a method of tobacco use is relatively new, albeit the practice is on the rise in West Africa.

The term vaginal tobacco is coined to describe the practice of using tobacco leaves on the vagina, with unproven claims that it improves sensation during intimacy, increases fertility, and tightens the vagina.

There are reports of the practice being carried out by women in The Gambia and Senegal.

To mark the 2022 International Women’s Day, themed ‘break the bias’, the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance embarked on research to investigate the use of tobacco products on the vagina within Northern Nigeria.

During one of the focused discussions on vaginal tobacco with some women, Laila, (not her real name) revealed that while the insertion of tobacco leaves in the vagina is unknown to her, she knows for a fact that in northern Nigeria, women of marriage age use tobacco/cigarette smoke with hopes of tightening their vagina.

“They collect cigarettes, especially cigarette butts into a native clay pot, they burn the cigarettes and squat on it so that the smoke will go into the vagina, they say it tightens the vagina”, she explained.

When one of the respondents was asked if she had ever used it, she smiled and offered no response.

The world’s leading organization on health, the World Health Organization says tobacco in all its forms and use is harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco.

Concerned by the findings, and to better understand the health implications of vaginal tobacco, Dr. Adamu (not real name) a Gynecologist at Federal Staff Hospital, Abuja was interviewed.

He said: “I know it is common practice in Northern Nigeria for women who are about to marry, but who may no longer be virgins to use a number of mixtures collectively called kayamata, to tighten the vagina as part of marriage preparation rituals.

“However, inserting anything in the vagina increases the risk of vaginal infection, and there is also a high risk of systemic absorption of the chemical constituents of tobacco into the blood stream causing damage to other parts of the body.

“Exposing the genitals to tobacco smoke may also cause ectopic pregnancies and negatively impact fertility.”

He advised women to desist from using harmful substances with wild and unproven claims on their reproductive organs.

Cigarette filters contain thousands of cellulose acetate fibers, this microplastics when burned release poisonous smoke that is harmful when inhaled or absorbed into the body.

In the Gambia, the Minister of Health, Dr. Ahmadou Samateh, in a viral video narrated the disturbing case of a young woman who after using vaginal tobacco, developed infection with worms discharging from her vagina.

The health of women is critical to the development of societies and the continuity of the human race. While more research is needed on the phenomenon of vaginal tobacco in Nigeria, women, and indeed men must work to break the societal biases that trigger women to engage in such self-destructive practices.

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