Children lighting up - Girls leading the list of new cigarette smokers
More youngsters, especially girls, are being attracted to smoking despite the relentless efforts of local anti-tobacco agitators and programmes set up to dissuade cigarette appeal.
A recently conducted survey suggested that young people are lighting up regardless of the push against doing so.
The survey said girls were more tempted to try cigarettes while the boys were more likely to try ganja.
Local cigarette manufacturers Carreras said it is undertaking an active "Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign" to ensure that its activities do not appeal to, or target children, and has voluntarily ceased advertisement in all media since 2002.
The company also claimed that it has removed all billboards from the Jamaican market since 2005.
But executive director of Heart Foundation of Jamaica and project manager for tobacco control, Deborah Chen, said in the 2010 survey, 60.1 per cent of young persons said they saw cigarette advertisement on billboards within the last 30 days.
Addressing a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, Chen said the survey showed that children are still being snared by huge tobacco companies.
According to Chen, 52.6 per cent of girls saw pro-smoking advertisements and teasers in newspapers or magazines while 13.7 per cent of young people own objects with the logos of cigarette brands on them.
She said another 7.8 per cent were offered free cigarette by a tobacco company representative. "That is really what concerns us."
Chen noted that the 2010 survey found that 28.7 per cent of Jamaica children between the ages of 13 and 16 were using tobacco products.
She charged that 90 per cent of smokers start before the age of 19 and then become addicted.
"We need more research because we really need to find out what makes them (young smokers) tick - sometimes some of the anti-smoking campaigns seem to spike their interest more rather than anything else," argued Chen.
But that research will have to be done without the input of Carreras or any other manufacturer of tobacco products, as the World Health Organisation's rules prevent members of the anti-smoking lobby from sitting around the negotiating table with players in the industry.
That is something regretted by Carreras who said while it supports the introduction of new laws, it wants to have a say in what is created.
"In the crafting and enactment of tobacco-control regulations, Carreras believes that in the spirit of continued partnership with the Government, the tobacco industry should have a voice," the company said in a statement released last Thursday to mark 'World No Tobacco Day'.
"Only good outcomes can result from including the responsible tobacco industry in the policymaking process as well as consideration of the views, as well as any impacts on all effected stakeholders," argued Carreras.
"Our record of support for balanced tobacco control regulations which will reduce the health impact of tobacco use and address our stakeholders' concerns about tobacco products is impatient of debate," the company added.