Your Adolescent And Smoking

Posted on 2013-07-07 22:00:07

Scenes of young people smoking in street corners after school or at social gatherings are increasingly becoming common place. And unlike in the past, smoking is no longer unique to men, more and more women are also taking up smoking. Most people who smoke tend to begin before the age of 20, and those who start smoking this young tend to continue doing so way into adulthood. The youth give different reasons as to why they started smoking. A clinical psychologist in Nairobi reveals that most adolescents start smoking in order to gain attention and approval, particularly from their peers. Others get started as a matter of curiosity, “I just wanted to try it” with part of this curiosity being linked to the perception that smoking is cool. This perception has been propagated by advertising and promotion. This is especially so in the case of movies, which are frequented by the youth. In the US, smoking appears in up to 66% of PG 13 movies. The adolescents who admire these bigger-than-life stars would want to emulate these personalities and are more likely to try smoking. There are also other forms of advertising or promotion that may be targeted at the youth such as handing out gifts or promotional items like branded T-shirts etc. These tobacco advertisements are so pervasive that up to three-quarters of adolescents are regularly exposed to various forms of advertising or promotion of cigarette smoking. The result of this exposure is that a third of adolescents who smoke report that they started as a result of advertising or promotion. The World No Tobacco Day was held on May 31st 2013, with the key messages for this year being a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship with the aim to reduce the start or continuance of smoking. Though an effective approach, this is not easy to implement in all countries, especially considering the size of the tobacco industry. WHO however continues to urge member countries to strive to implement these bans, and enforce the supportive legislation. The consumers however also have a role to play by being cognizant of the effect of these advertising campaigns on efforts to cease or prevent smoking. One other influence on youth that is often overlooked is parents, guardians and other role models who smoke in the presence of teenagers. Some youth report they started smoking because their parents are or were smokers. These young people not only have access to cigarettes in the home, but also have implicit consent by the actions of the parents. It would also be more difficult for a parent who smokes to sternly and convincingly advise a child not to smoke. Parents and guardians therefore need to keep this in mind every time they light up in the presence of their children. That being said, there are many adults who struggle with smoking, and have tried to stop smoking many times. This difficulty is even more so for those who start smoking in their youth. The nicotine found in cigarettes is one of the most addictive substances used worldwide. Nicotine works on the brains pleasure centres reducing anxiety and inducing euphoria. Nicotine produces dependence, where higher and higher doses of nicotine are required over time to produce the same pleasurable effects. Some researchers have gone as far as the rank nicotine dependence higher than that of alcohol or cocaine or heroin! Attempts to quit smoking are often thwarted by the associated withdrawal symptoms which start within hours of the last cigarette. These symptoms are worse in the first 2 weeks of quitting, which results in high failure rate at this time. This is more so for those who try to stop suddenly and without support. Smoking cessation is a process, and its success requires multiple approaches. These include:
  • Education – before stopping, it is important to understand the benefits of stopping to smoke and what to expect during the process. Awareness of the withdrawal symptoms prepares one to deal with them when they occur, while continuously reinforcing the benefits.
  • Counseling – this helps those who are willing to quit with developing a plan and sustaining efforts that increase chances of success in quitting. Counseling is often shunned but proves to e very useful as it not only involves professional counseling, but also peer to peer counseling by other also trying to quit.
  • Nicotine replacement – this involves delivery of low doses of nicotine in the body to relieve the acute craving and withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine is delivered using different products including nicotine patches, chewing gum, lozenges, nasal sprays and even inhalers. Most of these products are available locally. These products are however not without side effects; they may cause nausea, headache and dizziness.
  • Diet – weight gain is one of the effects of smoking cessation. Therefore a balanced but lower calorie diet may be helpful especially for females who would not want to gain weight.
  • Exercise – this not only prevents weight gain but also improves circulation and boosts energy levels, which combats some of the other withdrawal symptoms like fatigue.
  • Social support – support from family or friends is crucial when trying to quit smoking. This needs to be accompanied by the lifestyle changes to support efforts to quit such as avoiding situations that encourage smoking. Parents who have a child who smoke need to be supportive in order to encourage cessation.
For adolescents, prevention is still the best approach. This needs to begin early since the average age of starting smoking is 14.5 years. Prevention should be geared towards:
  • Restricting access to tobacco products – in many countries, sale of cigarettes to minors is illegal but this is not strictly enforced.
  • Restricting smoking in public – this not only reduces the reinforcement of the habit but also reduces exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Restriction of advertisements and promotions – countries need to heed the call to ban tobacco advertisements and promotions which have a great effect on impressionable youth. Some countries have implemented legislation that ensures packaging of cigarettes is plain and unattractive, or even include graphic images of the harmful effects of smoking.
  • Education and awareness creating on the harmful effects of smoking including effect on health, appearance as well as financial implications.