Typical Teens are Non-Smokers
The news is encouraging: youth tobacco-use rates are declining. It is true but it is a wonder considering all that the tobacco companies are doing to try to entice preteens and teens to take up smoking. A case in point: during the first 3 years of ‘Joe Camel’ ads, Camel’s share of the under-18 cigarette market jumped from 0.5% to 32.8%, representing a $470 million increase in annual sales! In a study conducted not many years later, 6-year-olds were as familiar with Joe Camel as Mickey Mouse…and they say they’re not marketing to our kids? The Big Tobacco companies know that kids are twice as likely to be influenced by advertising as they are by peer pressure. Which is why when the tobacco companies were banned from advertising in most of the media types, they began pouring millions of dollars into ‘product placement’ in PG-rated movies--again targeting our kids. In 1998 when Big Tobacco was called on this tactic, they publicly stated that they would discontinue lacing their products in movies, BUT, over the next two years, tobacco’s screen time in kid-rated films actually increased by 50%. Tobacco was portrayed in almost 80% of the top 50 films last year. The Big Tobacco companies are aware that kids whose favourite stars smoke on screen are 16 times more likely to try it themselves, and that 11-14 year olds who have seen lots of smoking in the movies are 3 times more likely to try smoking themselves. The tobacco companies are trying to make smoking look normal--because they know that if a certain behaviour is thought to be the norm, it can influence behaviour. In other words, if kids think most other kids smoke, they are much more likely to try smoking than if they believe the majority of their peers don’t smoke.
All of this brings me back to my earlier point about youth smoking rates being on the decline. In spite of all these intense advertising campaigns aimed specifically at preteens and teens, most teens today don’t use tobacco. According to the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, which has been studying adolescent drug use (Grades 7-OAC) every two years since 1977, teen tobacco use has fallen to 24% in 2001 (from 29% in 1999). These rates show the first appreciable decrease in smoking rates since the early 80’s. Of these reported smokers, 62.2% smoked less than five cigarettes a day, and only 3.4% of the smokers reported smoking an average of more than 20 cigarettes a day. That means, 76% of students-- in other words the vast majority-- are non-smoker. We need to let our kids know that smoking is not the norm. A typical teen is a non-smoking teen.
Another positive to remember is that parents and other role models play a very important part in whether adolescents choose to smoke. Many parents who smoke say they feel hypocritical advising their own children not to smoke, however studies have shown that the children of parents who voice strong opposition to smoking-even if the parents themselves smoke-have far lower rates of smoking initiation.
So next time you’re chatting with a typical teen, pat him/her on the back for being smart enough, and savvy enough, to see through all the Big Tobacco manipulation and lies, and deciding for himself/herself to remain smoke-free. (Some great web-sites for teens to check out: www.smoke-fx.com; and www.cyberisle.org/teennet; and www.nicotinefreekids.com.)
For further information call Public Health Unit at 376-9420 or visit our web site at www.publichealthgreybruce.on.ca
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