Australia is not backwards when it comes to our anti-smoking campaign efforts. Almost anywhere you go these days, there is a clearly appointed anti-smoking message. That cigarettes cause lung cancer and vascular disease is widely plastered on billboards and the sides of buses. In addition, we can readily learn that smoking leads to throat cancer, emphysema and premature death on the radio and television.
More often than not, these anti-smoking messages are very memorable (mainly because they are awfully sad and excruciatingly graphic). If the message is there, then, and we know that smoking is a risk factor for many diseases, why are people still taking up the habit? Furthermore, why are there so many teenagers smoking these days? Here, Dr Cassy Richmond examines the issue of teenage smoking.
A recent report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that almost 10 percent of boys and nearly 5 percent of girls aged around 16 years are cigarette smokers. Furthermore, according to the 2005 Australian Secondary Schools Alcohol and Drug Survey, about 17 percent of 18-19 year olds smoke daily.
Why do they smoke?
There are many reasons why teenagers take up smoking. For one thing, smoking is perceived as an 'adult past-time' and what teenager doesn’'t want to feel more grown-up? Moreover, for some, smoking is seen as a way to get attention or approval.
Others may feel the social pressure to smoke by their peers. In addition, many teenagers are attracted to the element of danger associated with smoking, believing that they are invincible in their youth.
And while there are bans in Australia on cigarette advertising (including advertising on the radio, television, and in all newspapers and magazines), cigarette smoking can still be seen in the movies and on some television shows. Now ask yourself, if you are a young, wide-eyed Carrie Bradshaw (from Sex and the City) devotee, and you see her smoking on television or at the movies, wouldn’'t you want to be just like her? And then, of course, when rock stars and singers are captured smoking by the media, this can send a strong message to young fans that "smoking must be cool".
Importantly, research has shown that teens who start smoking from a young age are more likely to continue smoking into adulthood. This is largely because the nicotine contained in cigarettes is highly addictive. Cigarette-smoking is also habit forming. In addition, some may feel that smoking helps to alleviate the stress that can occur during adolescence.
The fight back
Since 2006, it is a requirement in Australia for cigarette packages to contain health warnings with graphic images depicting the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. Moreover, there is a proposed law in Australia to mandate that cigarettes be sold in plain, olive-green packaging.
To this end, it is believed that plain packaging will minimise the attractiveness of buying cigarettes, and particularly reduce the appeal of smoking to teenagers. In addition, cigarette pricing is extremely high (a pack of 25 cigarettes costs around $15). This makes smoking formidable, especially for our youth.
What you can do
If you are experiencing a modicum of "communication disintegration" with your beloved adolescent these days, you are not alone. Teenagers are notorious for asserting their independence and not necessarily sharing everything with their parents. However, do not give up because you can play an important role in discouraging your child from smoking, and becoming hooked.
Start by bringing up the subject of 'smoking' at an opportune time, such as after an anti-smoking advertisement has played on television. Discuss the health risks associated with cigarettes, and why smoking is so addictive. Talk about the financial cost of cigarettes, and suggest other ways the money could be best spent. In addition, explain the social downfalls associated with smoking (including bad breath, smelly clothes and reduced sporting fitness). If you feel that your child is not responsive to the discussion, you can always re-visit the topic at another time.
Have your say: are you worried your teen might smoke?