Christopher Serju, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The local anti-smoking lobby is stepping up its campaign as it attempts to reduce the number of deaths related to smoking in Jamaica.
With the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that every 6.5 seconds someone dies from a tobacco-related illness, the latest campaign is aimed at teenagers as research suggest that people who start smoking in their teens (as more than 70 per cent do) and continue for more than two decades or more, will die 20 to 25 years earlier than those who never light up.
According to the Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS), if some of the lesser known side effects of tobacco smoking were publicised this could help to convince many people not to start smoking in the first place and others to give up this deadly habit.
"Ignorance, in this case, is not just blissful but addictive, expensive and downright painful for smokers and their families," Yulit Gordon, executive director of the JCS, told The Sunday Gleaner.
In its ongoing mission to get smokers to quit, the JCS has embarked on a mission to get the truth out to youngsters, especially, who might believe that smoking is hip, macho and glamorous.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that 90 per cent of all cancers is linked to tobacco smoking - leukaemia, bladder cancer, cancer of the cervix, cancer of the oesophagus, kidney cancer, cancer of the larynx (voice box), lung cancer, cancer of the oral cavity (mouth), pancreatic cancer, cancer of the pharynx (throat) and stomach cancer.," said Gordon, who argued that tobacco smoking is a common risk factor.
She charged that more children in Jamaica are falling victim to what many view as a rite of passage to adulthood.
Citing the findings of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the National Drug Abuse Council in 2006 and again in 2010, Gordon charged that more and more children are smoking.
This survey, which involved 1,188 children between the ages of 13 and 15 in the 14 parishes, showed that the prevalence of use of cigarettes and other tobacco products had increased in the four years since the 2006 survey, up from 19.5 per cent to 23.2 per cent.
"Even when they were not smoking, children continued to be negatively affected by the tobacco smoking habits of their parents and other adults since this habit is most prevalent in the lower socio-economic group," charged Gordon.
"Someone who smokes a 20 pack a day ends up spending approximately $250,000 per year buying cigarettes," added Gordon.
She argued that, "This means that the already limited resources that should be used in maintaining the household and looking after the children is being spent on maintaining a destructive habit.
"It is destructive also because the cost to treat cancer in this country is significantly high and this group of persons who is more at risk cannot afford the cost.
"There are many Jamaican families that have been driven into bankruptcy because of a cancer diagnosis. Therefore, the Jamaica Cancer Society is really about arming members of the public with the facts through their public-health education programmes, so that one can make wise and informed decisions about one's health".
HELPING THEM KICK HABIT
The JCS has partnered with the American Cancer Society in offering a "Fresh Start Cessation" programme to help smokers quit, through the provision of information, resources, and support in a series of comprehensive four to six group-based therapy sessions that cover issues such as nicotine addiction, managing withdrawal symptoms, weight control, stress management, and recognising and planning for possible obstacles to quitting.
"These sessions are free to the public, and we try not to have more than 10 persons in any one session so as to make the programme highly effective.
"Dr Aldyth Buckland, general practitioner and volunteer, works very closely with the JCS team to plan and execute these therapy sessions.
"This programme is also available to human-resource managers within organisations and guidance counsellors within the education system who would like to make a difference in assisting their employees and students kick this habit."