You may have recently noticed a surge on the anti-tobacco war front. This increase in the anti-tobacco campaign comes at the heels of national cancer statistics, which report that there has been a decrease in national cancer rates. The fact is that adolescents are hard to reach when it comes to preventive health care. From 1997-2003, cigarette use declined sharply, but more recent statistics show that current rates are declining at a much slower rate. Nearly all first time tobacco use occurs before high school graduation. If first time tobacco use in school years could be eradicated we would see a huge decrease in morbidity and mortality across the life span. It is illegal to buy cigarettes under the age of 18, but that doesn’t stop it from occurring. I believe nicotine to be the gate way drug of teens. After all, if you use one illegal substance, what will stop them from eventually replacing one substance for the next?
Here are some facts about teen smokers:
- 60.9 percent of students who smoked have tried to quit. Only 12.3 percent were successful at quitting.
- 80 percent of adult smokers began before the age of 18.
- 3,800 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette every day. It is estimated that of these teens, 1,000 will become daily smokers.
- In 2009, 19.5 percent of high school students reported smoking one or more cigarettes in the previous month. 5.2 percent of middle school students in 2009 reported that they smoked 1 or more cigarettes in the last month (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2012).
Nicotine is the psycho active drug that produces dependency. It is the most common form of chemical dependency in the U.S. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2012). Research has suggested that nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine and alcohol. The availability of cigarettes, low cost, family and peer pressure contribute to smoking. Some significant predictors of adolescent smoking include:
- Sibling smoking history, which is more predictive than parental smoking history.
- Friends play an important role especially when peer pressure is involved.
- Lower socio-economic status has been implicated.
Knowledge is power. Talking to your children, students or team about cigarette smoking is still germane in the war on tobacco. Here are some great facts to include in your discussions, according to the CDC and Prevention:
- Smoking harms every organ in your body. Heart disease, lung disease and cancer are the most popular illnesses, but even eyesight can be affected.
- Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, many toxic.
- 70 of these chemicals are cancerous.
- 90 percent of lung cancer in men and 80 percent of lung cancer in women are due to smoking.
- Lung cancer causes more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer combined.
It is important that we stop tobacco from being so easily accessible. Ways to decrease tobacco use include:
- Comprehensive reductions on tobacco advertising help reduce tobacco consumption. Notice that the camel and other cartoon characters are no longer used in advertising cigarettes. Those characters were responsible for making children feel that smoking was cool and harmless.
- Media campaigns and community based interventions are needed. Hollywood needs to stop heroes on the big screen from lighting up. One must question how much money the tobacco industry provides the film industry to showcase their product. Communities need to promote smoke free environments and increase anti-smoking programs in school.
- Increase the excise tax. It will help young and old.
- Promote smoke-free environments on campuses.
- Start talking to your school-aged children about cigarettes and continue the conversation until they are out of high school. Siblings and friends with smoking histories should be watched carefully since they may open this tobacco flood gate.
- If you smoke, stop. There are a lot of medications that can help you stop smoking. Be an example to your child. If you have difficulty stopping it merely enforces the fact that children should never start.
- Coaches should have their team hold their breath for 45 seconds. After 30 seconds, they will feel how a smoker feels after running the length of a soccer field. After 40 seconds, they will feel how a smoker feels after running twice the length of the soccer field.
For more information regarding tobacco and youth visit the CDC for more information regarding prevention and cessation. Stay well.