How To Quit Smoking

“Getting kids to butt out” was the topic of my column last week. We also discussed Medicine Hat School District No 76’s “Tobacco-free Environment” Policy A-38. Today, we will take the subject little further.

We know that no one starts smoking after the age of 20. Most smokers start smoking in their teens. We know that 91 percent of youth believe smoking is addictive. We know the two reasons why teens start smoking are: peer pressure (“be cool, man!”), and curiosity.

So, how can we stop teenagers from picking up this habit? And help smoking teenagers kick the habit?

Prevention programs depend on creating public awareness of the serious health consequences of tobacco use. But the Alberta Cancer Board says: “It is now recognized that awareness alone is not enough to alter behaviours. For example, it is ineffective to teach children that smoking is bad for you if the students then go home to parents who smoke, or go to the mall or other public places and see widespread social acceptance of tobacco use.”

To encourage and help people become and remain tobacco free, it is also necessary to create a supportive social environment, says the Cancer Board. Does our school system have such supportive social environment?

Ninety percent of everything we do is habit, says Kurt Hanks in “Motivating People”. Much of motivation involves changing someone’s habits. People are usually quite comfortable with their established patterns and routines. So how can we change them?

To change someone’s habit pattern, you have to substitute a better habit pattern. We have to show them that their time and money can be spent on better and healthier things. Besides that, personal motivation plays a big role.

Personal motivation is the single most important factor that determines a person’s success or failure in quitting cigarettes, says Dr. Edward Beattie, Jr., M.D. in “Toward the Conquest of Cancer.”

The man or woman who is highly motivated to stop smoking – for whatever reason – will be successful while those with weak or moderate motivation often do not succeed, says Dr. Beattie. Personal motivation also determines whether a smoker who has quit will backslide into smoking again.

The teenager does not fear cancer or other illness that may strike him in 20 to 30 years. But he does fear being “uncool”, not knowing how to handle a cigarette, and not being an “in” member of his social group, says Dr. Beattie.

It is never too late to quit smoking. The risk of death decreases soon after quitting and continues to do so for at least 10-15 years. After that, the overall risk is nearly the same level as for never-smokers.

Therefore, it is very important for schools to have programs that focus on prevention and elimination of smoking in and around schools. This should involve parents, teachers and students. We should also create a supportive social environment for teenagers to keep them away from this deadly disease.

The task is not easy. But the parents and teachers should get together and organize some serious preventative measures that we can all try and make it work. Does anybody talk to the kids who stand across from their schools and smoke? Do their parents know they smoke?

Finally, let us remember that cigarette smoking is the largest single preventable cause of cancer. It is also the largest single preventable cause of illness and premature death in Canada. Smoking accounts for almost 30 percent of all cancer deaths and kills almost 3,500 Albertans and 45,000 Canadians each year – more people than killed by heroin, cocaine, alcohol, AIDS, fires, murders, suicides and car crashes combined.

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