The drivers who are putting their brains to sleep to keep their eyes awake
Three taxi drivers on three December nights talked to me about the amazing powder that helps in staying awake as they labour to stay above Ghana’s poverty line.
Snuff, they called it. Pulverized tobacco leaves with the brown look of cocoa powder.
No, it’s not Tramadol, Kobby, my driver, run away from associating it with a heavily condemned drug. ‘This one is good’, he said falling more on his nine-year driving experience than medical science.
“I know drivers who take Tramadol but snuff is better than Tramadol, snuff has been with us for the longest time, our forefathers used snuff to heal a headache and cold, so it is not anything bad,” he said.
And that’s why the first driver I picked from Awoshie to Dansoman stopped unexpectedly, got out and crammed the wrapped substance to another driver who had signalled him to stop.
My driver also drives the sale of the drug in the area for as low as one to five cedi.
And after that first encounter, I started asking each driver I picked for any association with snuff. The pattern was scary.
Two more drivers, Abu and Kwesi, spoke about it in glowing terms, making it hard to accept their frail denial that they do not personally use it.
Well, Abu did but not anymore, he said directing his fingers to colleagues who have not yet joined him in his doubtful victory over an addictive substance.
His hectic work routine each day was morning till a 4 pm break for rest and a restart from 8 pm till 4 pm the next day.
A rugged schedule, exacting a demand from his body and brains in a way health professional would flag down as dangerous.
Kwesi, a mechanic by day and a driver by night said his hard work of and on the road has helped him buy two cars. The Vitz he drove me in, he said, was bought for GHc 24,000.
He doesn’t sniff it but he knows the sniffing spots – local herbs vendors, blue kiosks and behind the flung taxi doors as the drivers brace for a long night on the job.
There are VIP bus drivers who use it for the long inter-city journeys where vigilant eyes are needed to avoid the kind of road carnages that leads to mournful vigils.
And then there is a deadly mixture of snuff and other stuff.
“Some even after taking the snuff, add other highly contained caffeine drinks like Rush and 5-Star energy drink” Francis a taxi driver said.
There is a booming underground industry of the unsafe methods drivers use to drive the public home safely.
Checking through a bucket list of dangers, Occupational Health Specialist at Goldfield’s Hospital, Dr Tetteh Odjidja easily ticked off lung cancer
“ Anything that goes through the nose goes through to the throat and the lungs, that is why asthmatic patient use the inhaler through their nose and feel the effect in their lungs”
“…snuffing tobacco can destroy your lungs just as smoking cigarettes can” he explained
The expert said tobacco contains nicotine, a toxic colourless oily liquid that is addictive and acts as a stimulant when snuffed.
He said nicotine can be carcinogenic (can cause cancer).
“The lining in the nasal cavity, the mucous membrane is rich with blood vessels and the continuous sniffing of tobacco can damage it which may later lead to brain damage,” he said.
In effect, a nose-bleeding death lurks in every snuff.
Dr Odjidja admitted that because of its stimulating property, Snuff can keep an abuser active but the side effect can be very damning.
“It is like going for a loan to buy a car” he continued, pointing out that behind the momentary joy of having the money, is a payment plan that lies ahead.
“You’ll pay back when the drug wears off, the body will be under pressure to payback and gradually you’ll develop the withdrawal symptoms…..it means is that in the long-term, the body will not work without the drug” he warned.
But beyond the snuff, there are those who prefer a cocktail of disease and danger by mixing it with other caffeine drugs like the so-called energy drinks.
Dr. Odjidja said the combinations “causes the heart to work faster than normal which is bad.”
The Ghana Road Traffic Act- 2004(Act 683) Section 4 prohibits drivers from abusing alcohol or any drug when driving.
It says ‘a person who, while driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road, is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to such a degree as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction’
The Act stipulates that anyone found liable to that offence will be made to ultimately serve a 3-5-years imprisonment term.
According to the National Road Safety Commission accident statistics for 2018, about 80 per cent of road accidents are caused by human errors.
The Commission listed over-speeding, drunk-driving, lack of vehicle maintenance, bad road design and construction as part of the cause.
This provision does not seem to deter drivers from abusing drugs.
For these drivers, the line in a Nigerian hit song by Victor AD, ‘if you no get money whetin you gain’, seems to be the driving force for snuff.
And as the heart pumps faster on a fast lane, the drivers are fastening their demise.