Anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows how hard it is to break the terrible addiction to nicotine. It would seem logical, then, not to start smoking in the first place. However, given the vast amount of information available about the health consequences of smoking, it can seem incongruous and is certainly tragic that so many young people continue to smoke, despite the substantial progress made in reducing smoking rates among Canadian young people. Data released by the Provincial Health Services Authority in 2014 shows that the percentage of B.C. students who smoke increases from 3% in Grade 7 to 18% by the time the students reach Grade 12.
So why do so many kids, many of whom say they started at age 14, light up? Studies and reports link the decision of young people to start smoking to several key factors. 1. Their parents and/or siblings are smokers. 2. They identify with peers they see as social leaders and want to imitate their smoking habits. 3. They regard smoking as a way to show independence and maturity. 4. They see smoking in many communities where they live, video games they play, websites they visit and movies they watch. For example, in 2010, nearly a third of top-grossing movies produced for children—those with ratings of G, PG, or PG-13— contained images of smoking. 5. They will often underestimate the full range of negative health consequences that are caused by smoking. Most will know that smoking causes lung cancer but will not know that smoking also causes many other types of cancers, as well as heart disease, and shortens life expectancy. 6. They may not see themselves as personally vulnerable to the risks of smoking.
Physiology also plays a role in addiction. Adolescents seem to become addicted much earlier than previously believed. Research has shown that the symptoms of addiction — craving and withdrawal — can begin when kids are smoking as few as two cigarettes a week. While this is not the case with everyone, those for whom it is true are much more likely to become daily smokers.
So, what can concerned parents do? Despite the impact of movies, music, the Internet, and peers, parents can be the greatest influence in their kids’ lives. In a 2009 study, teens whose parents often talked to them about the dangers of smoking were about half as likely to smoke as those who did not have these discussions. This held true no matter whether or not the parents were smokers themselves. And, if a child has already started using tobacco, parents can help her/him kick the habit.
January’s National Non-Smoking Week (Jan. 18-24) is a perfect time to start a new smoke-free life. An excellent resource can be found at https://www.quitnow.ca/. And, as always, the health professionals at the Agassiz Community Health Centre are available to provide young people and their parents with the necessary supports.
Submitted by Agassiz Community Health Centre