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The tobacco seduction of our children

Published:Monday | November 25, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

I am lucky to have never tried smoking anything at any time in my life. And I am also lucky because I grew up in a smoke-free home and work in a smoke-free environment. As an adult, I was never exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, except on extremely rare occasions. But, not all children or adults are as lucky as I am. Before July, 15, 2013, our laws did not offer protection to non-smokers. The current anti-smoking legislation was reviewed by Parliament in the interest of fairness and reasonableness.

Thanks to the bold, brave and assertive move by the Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson, cigarette smokers who light up in public are now restricted to smoking only in spaces where they won't pose health risks to innocent non-smokers.

Whereas our present laws seek to protect us from harmful cigarette smoke, we need to do more to significantly reduce the likelihood of tobacco companies luring children and young teens into becoming users of this very dangerous product.

I was fortunate to have seen the Patterns of Adolescent Tobacco Use in Jamaica: Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2010. In it, the author, Dr Ellen Campbell Grizzle, director, Information and Research, National Council on Drug Abuse, and national coordinator, Global Youth Tobacco Survey, revealed several startling facts about cigarette smoking and the young.

The (self-administered, voluntary and anonymous) study in knowledge and attitudes towards smoking was conducted in Jamaican high schools among 13- to 15-year-olds. Over 1,000 students from several schools were surveyed.

A few of the many interesting findings were that experimentation with cigarette smoking increased between 2000 and 2010. Female experimentation increased steadily over that period of time. The study also revealed that 20 per cent of non-smoking 13- to 15-year-olds was likely to start smoking the next year. Some children believe that their peers who smoke have more friends. Seven out of 10 students reported being exposed to second-hand smoke in public spaces and were in favour of banning that activity.

Almost 82 per cent of the students reported that their age was no barrier to purchasing cigarettes (it was a recent increase). Offers of free cigarettes from tobacco company representatives were reported by 7.8 per cent of respondents. During 2010, 60.1 per cent of the respondents reported seeing cigarettes advertised on billboards, and 52.6 per cent reported seeing cigarettes advertised on billboards and in magazines.

NEARLY HALF SMOKE AT HOME

During the study, one in 10 children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old had received promotional items (branded objects such as T-shirts, pens or bags). Almost one in every five Jamaican schoolchildren between 13 and 15 years of age smokes cigarettes. About 45 per cent buys cigarettes in a store, and 47.1 per cent habitually smoke at home. Nearly 60 per cent of them would like to stop. About 39 per cent was exposed to second-hand smoke at home and almost 67 per cent was exposed to second-hand smoke outside of their homes.

In a November 23, 2012 Gleaner piece, 'Beware! Cigarette companies luring kids into smoking with technology', it was pointed out that parents need to be more vigilant because cigarette companies were using smartphone apps, mobile and computer games to "pass on subtle messages, even to children".

Some cigarette companies use cleverly designed (camouflaged) packaging to attract kids. Some even flavour the cigarettes to mask the harshness of the smoke. Their aim is to start the kids smoking because once they start, most are hooked for life.

The younger kids start, the more likely they are to experience the horrible side effects of cigarette smoking and further add to the statistics of people who become diseased and die prematurely.

Dr Ferguson's bold initiative, the public-smoking ban, is a great start; it will be his legacy and generations to come will be grateful to him.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com