BY JANICE BUDD Associate Editor – Sunday [email protected]
Sunday, November 28, 2010
‘PUNCIE’ lives on the gully bank on Dumfries Road in New Kingston. The vicious progression of crack addiction, with its trail of shattered dreams, has landed her here, in a ramshackle hut she calls home. She is one of several female addicts whom the Sunday Observer saw living there on a recent visit.
Her 30-year old, still-shapely figure is clad in washed out neon tights and a T-shirt. A battered pair of sneakers are on her feet. A dark wig that has seen better days is bound to her head with an old scarf. Her arms and face are pock marked with scars, including a split nostril where a piercing appeared to have been torn out. She is full of laughter for some reason, perhaps the result of a recent fix. To support her crack habit, Puncie makes money selling sex to strangers.
“Sometime a man come and a give me five bills ($500), but me know mi can get more than that,” Puncie says, adding that she could make up to $2,000 from a single ‘client’.
“You have some man who will pay you a good, good money, give you a grand or a two grand, all carry you go a hotel. But some a dem, dem rue cause tru dem know seh wi smoke (crack), dem wi gi wi any and anyting,” she says matter-of-factly.
Her neighbour along the gully bank is self-proclaimed area leader ‘Rambo’. The stocking cap, the loose T-shirt and tattered men’s boxers, the tennis socks sans tennis shoes, and dark glasses and the deep voice, would fool many into thinking ‘Rambo’ is a very short, very slight male. The
only evidence this 40-year-old is female are the massive fakegold hoops that adorn her ears.
‘Rambo’ is also a crack addict, and bears the tell-tale scars of years of living on the streets. The most obvious, a terribly deformed arm, broken in more than one place in various fights and attacks, she says, and never properly set.
Rambo and Puncie began their downward spiral into drug hell when they both started smoking ganja as teens. Puncie, at the time just 14, got hooked when a friend introduced her to a seasoned spliff — the cocaine soon outstripping the appeal of the ganja it was mixed with and eventually being replaced with crack.
Rambo’s experience is the same. She started smoking cocaine-laced ganja in her late teens with her then boyfriend. She kept smoking it in order to keep him, also an addict, from leaving her. She maintains she can kick the habit anytime. Notwithstanding, the drug has cost her her home and family as she rapidly smoked up the profits from her business — a dry-goods market stall downtown Kingston.
Apparently in need of a ‘hit’ on the day of our visit, Rambo berated the Sunday Observer team, uttering a stream of expletives as she demanded money in exchange for photos and an interview, before turning her fury on another hapless young female addict bathing in water runoff in the gully.
Several miles away, in an eighth grade classroom in a well-known Kingston high school, a 13-year-old boy is struggling to conquer his own addiction, not to crack, but to what many specialists now consider a new gateway drug — ‘Grabba’. It is a popular, potent mix of tobacco and ganja, and the subject of an equally popular and potent dancehall tune.
The boy says he sometimes smokes up to three spliffs per day. “Mi like grabba when it hot,” he says in a voice not yet deepened by adolescence. “Like when you use a lighter and hot di grabba and it get thin, you just crush it up in deh and sometimes you can just pinch it up and put in it,” the slender teen explains further. “Mek you feel high and sometimes it mek you feel laughie, sometimes you head feel like it a hurt you and you haffi go hol a medz, you just siddung in one place by yuself, no inna no talkin.
“You jus hol it fi smoke a medz sometime when people trouble you. One day mi deh a school and one bwoy in mi class waan fight mi. Mi feel like seh mi would a get mad and mi waan lick him wid a chair, mi just go straight a mi yard, hold a medz, bun weed fi di whole day and dis figet bout dat,” says the teen.
He and his ‘dawgs’ or crew of young male friends, regularly buy their $50 bag of weed and pack of ‘Rizzla’ then sit back, roll up a ganja cigar and smoke it. The 13-year-old says it is a habit that is proving very hard to kick.
“Mi a try fi stop now. Mi a eat Wrigleys and sweetie. Once you start fi do it you know, it hard fi stop,” he confesses. “You want it daily, like how you would a want a money fi go a school every day, like how you woulda want a money fi buy a shoes. a so it go.”
“But I think seh the Government uphold di smokin. First ting the cigarette, after the cigarette, there shouldn’t be no Rizzla, and then like how dem bring in the Rizzla and the cigarette, they have the lighter with the Rasta pon it and stuff like that, mi think the Government uphold it just for the money,” he argues, explaining that the availability of these things encouraged him and his friends to puff the weed.
He also feels that the authorities have no moral right to penalise people for smoking it. “You have police weh come and buy ‘scliff’ (spliff) and gawn again, wi watch dem and dem nuh know seh wi a watch dem,” he claims.
In spite of this, he describes being chased by the cops after he and his friends were caught smoking, and one of them getting a beating when caught. He says he learned to mimic elders in his community and throw his weed away when the police are around, then retrieve it once they have left.
The teen says his friends have even smoked weed and grabba at school. “Dem bring it inna dem socks and push it in dem tie. Dem go down the playing field and smoke.”
Like so many other teenaged boys, his parents split up in a bitter, violent way and his father is no longer in the home. He doesn’t think either of his parents know that he smokes, although he confesses, somewhat proudly, that he picked up the habit from his father, whom he says is a regular ganja-smoker.
According to the teen, he used to pick up his father’s cast off ‘spliff tail’ and build his own spliff when his father wasn’t around. Soon he became an expert spliff-roller and a regular at the weed sellers in his area. He doesn’t think his father would take it well if he found out. In fact, he explains that the last time he got into serious trouble his father broke his arm.
Good father/son relationships are the exception rather than the rule for many teen boys who smoke weed and grabba. Another 13-yearold boy with whom the Sunday Observer spoke, started smoking a year-and-ahalf ago. He is aware enough to link it to his depression over the death of his mother, his father’s migration to the United States and his being dumped on relatives.
On the day the Sunday Observer spoke with him, the handsome, slickly dressed youngster, with his freshly cut hair and his obviously groomed eyebrows, had just been interrogated by the police for socking a female classmate in the eye after she told him what he should go and do with his deceased mother.
The school suspended him for 10 days and he was ordered into counselling. His harried aunt was upset but not entirely shocked when she heard his confession that he smoked weed and drank alcohol.
“The teacher ask mi if him aggressive at home too; mi tell him ‘yes’. Him ask mi if him smoke, mi said ‘yes’; him ask mi if him drink, mi tell him ‘yes’,” she says emotionlessly.
She was however, visibly alarmed when he said he smoked every day and regularly drank rum mixed with a popular and cheap locally bottled energy drink. “Sometimes all six ‘scliff’ a day,” he mumbles, his eyes downcast. “Mi drink rum and [the energy drink] after mi smoke the ‘scliff’ and it (grabba) mek mi high and di [energy drink] mek mi get more energy,” he explains. “Sometime mi drink di rum wid water,” he adds.
Asked why he smoked weed and grabba, he responds in halting, broken English: “Sometime when mi get angry, mi just feel fi smoke it. Mi just cuss bad wud and buil’ up mi spliff and smoke it.”
His aunt says this anger had led to knife fights with his sister and even him shattering his beloved cell phone by flinging it against a wall in a fit of rage.
Both boys are typical of the type of Jamaican youngster the National Council for Drug Abuse (NCDA) says are slipping into the world of drugs at younger and younger ages.
November is being observed as Drug Awareness Month, and Michael Tucker, executive director of the NCDA, sounded alarm bells with data showing that 27 per cent of teenagers are lighting up. He says it is worrying enough that more teens are choosing to smoke, but a significant number of these teens are not smoking cigarettes. Instead, they are floating into the world of addiction on fragrant wafts of smoke from beedys, flavoured cigars, grabba and marijuana.
Daniel Brown, the NCDA field officer for Kingston and St Andrew, says more and more teenaged boys are smoking ‘grabba’ and ‘beedys’. He explains that there are different types of grabba, the most popular being the “red herring” — combination of unrefined tobacco leaves and ganja.
“When you smoke weed by itself you get a certain high, but when you combine it now with the grabba, it’s much stronger, it’s two different chemicals combining and it has a different effect,” he says.
The ‘beedy’, also spelled ‘beedi’ and ‘bidi’, is a slender, hand-rolled, flavoured cigarette, primarily made in India. In the early 1990s it flooded US markets, sweeping the underage American youth into a sea of early nicotine addiction, because it was cheaper and more accessible than regular cigarettes.
Beedys are unfiltered and tapered at one or both ends to look like marijuana cigarettes or ‘spliffs’. The thin cigarettes sometimes come in sweet flavours like chocolate, cherry and vanilla. The most popular ones in Jamaica are highly aromatic due to the eucalyptus leaves used to wrap the tobacco.
The NCDA says they are very popular among younger people, with 15 per cent of the young population actually experimenting with them. The Sunday Observer asked its tweeters to comment on why beedys were growing in popularity among teens. Most said it was cool, it looked like a ganja spliff without the smell or the narcotic effect, it was legal and it was cheap — $10 for one as against $35 for a cigarette.
While not as mind-altering as ganja, the NCDA is concerned that more teens are smoking them, thinking they are harmless. Not so, says Brown.
“The tobacco in the beedi is the rejected tobacco from the cigarette company that they put inside of the beedi. I think it has 10 per cent more nicotine than a cigarette, about 40 per cent more tar than a cigarette and about 45 per cent more carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas) than a cigarette, so it’s much more dangerous,” says the counsellor. It is the level of nicotine and tar that determines the quality or “strength” and, by extension, the harmfulness of a cigarette.
Additionally, the experts worry it could be a gateway drug to ganja and grabba, and later, ganja mixed with crack/cocaine as teens look for a bigger high. Plus, he adds that the weed today is much more potent than the ganja of past generations.
“The weed that is being smoked now is much stronger than the weed that was being smoked couple years ago like in the 70s,” says Brown. “The main ingredient in marijuana is Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short. We talk about high grade, this is what they (smokers) love to talk about when they say they are smoking high grade. The higher the grade is, the more the THC inside of it. Back in the 1970s the THC was about three per cent; the highest grade of weed now is between 26 and 30 per cent.”
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted in 2006, which is the most recent research available on drug use among Jamaican teenagers, showed the average age for first use of ganja and cigarettes, (including beedy), was 12. The average age for introduction to alcohol was 10. Most of these pre-teens hailed from Kingston and St Andrew. The survey also showed that use of alcohol, cigarettes, beedy and ganja was rising among students in grades eight, 10 and 11.
While the NCDA was unable to provide more current statistics, social workers and counsellors say anecdotal evidence supports the idea that more youth are smoking and that more are experimenting with harder drugs. The experts also fear the gap between boys and girls who use is narrowing. Every Tuesday, Brown has a weekly session with 8th graders at New Day Primary and Junior High school in St Andrew. It’s one way the cashstrapped NCDA is trying to get teens to stay off the path of addiction.
“I’m drinking rum, and Red Bull. ” he sings, as he engages the youngsters in a discussion about how not to let music influence their behaviour. Within seconds, the group of about 15 teenaged boys and girls join him in finishing the chorus of the popular dancehall hit. Once he got control of the exuberant teens, he urged them not to take literally the words of the songs.
The song extolling the virtues of the trendy, heady, but deadly mix of alcohol and energy drinks is one of the problems, Brown asserts. He feels enough people, especially parents, don’t monitor the company their children keep, or the music they listen to, nor the television shows they watch.
“We have as young as six smoking weed now,” he says, pointing to the influence of adult users. “Kids in certain communities are more likely to use drugs, but all kids will use drugs. Certain kids see drugs every single day. If it’s around them every day, it’s only a matter of time before they actually try it.”
Society at large does not escape blame he notes. “It’s like the songs they are playing on the radio. ‘Hot grabba, hot grabba’. You hear a five or sixyear-old singing this tune. So when they hear it enough they are going to want to know what is this grabba and why it mus hot,” says Brown.
“Imagine, couple years from now when they are the ones who are leading this country, we are looking at say by 2030 we want to be a first world country. First world country with what workforce?” he asks. “Most of the students who leave high school and can’t read and can’t write, is smoke they smoke their way through school,” says Brown.
‘PUNCIE’ lives on the gully bank on Dumfries Road in New Kingston. The vicious pro…nothingnothingnothingnothingnothing
The History of Fronto and Grabba Leaf Tobacco
Most people are unaware of the Fronto tobacco leaf, but the truth is this leaf has been around for decades. It is also widely recognized as Grabba and Fanta, and particularly enjoyed by Caribbean Islanders and Jamaicans. The fronto leaf comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and gives off a potent and bold smoke when rolled up in a paper or smoked in a pipe. The word “fronto” comes from Fanta, a term originally used in the Jamaican culture. Grabba is also a Jamaican word, and is the practically the same thing as Fanta. These terms are interchangeable.
The key distinction in fronto leaves is in the different varieties. A Fronto leaf should be dark, but not so thick so that it can be used to roll and wrap tobacco or marijuana. However, this can be a little difficult to achieve simultaneously as darkness and thickness of the leaf go hand-in-hand. Grabba leaf is a way to smoke fronto leaf. Grabba emerges when you break down fronto leaves into strips or little bits and then add them to other smoking material. Grabba leaf tobacco is the favored form of whole leaf tobacco in numerous places in the world, including big cities like Boston, Los Angeles and New York City.
The real difference in fronto leaves lies in its various types. Complete Leaf Tobacco is typically seen as the definition of fronto because the leaf is long and full, and the stem is intact. When sold through retailers, only sales tax is levied on the leaves. When sold through wholesale, however, no taxes are applied. One type of Fronto leaf is known as the Connecticut Fronto or the Connecticut Wrapper, which is a thin yet large-sized fronto leaf. It is a favorite cigar wrapper for many smokers. On the other hand, folks who enjoy Caribbean Tobacco prefer QB52 Fronto due to its top quality and solid smoke.
As a smoker, or someone who is interested in cigar wrappers, fronto or grabba, it is important that you do your research regarding the different leaf types and then look for a well-known distributor either through the internet or personal contacts. By rolling with these leaves, may folks have reported saving cash, as compared to buying conventional blunt wrappers.
All in all, being familiar with the history of fronto and grabba leaf tobacco gives you a clear idea of why they are so popular among tobacco lovers.
The History of Fronto and Grabba Leaf Tobacco Most people are unaware of the Fronto tobacco leaf, but the truth is this leaf has been around for decades. It is also widely recognized as Grabba