Teenage Smoking

Each morning, if you are driving by one of the junior or senior high schools, or dropping off your child at one of these schools, you will notice a group of students hanging out and smoking across the street. Many parents, who do not want their children to pick up this deadly habit, find this very disturbing. It is a scary sight –especially at eight o’clock in the morning.

Come to think of it, five or ten students seen smoking outside their schools represent a very small minority. I know there are many more students who smoke, but are not seen “showing off” first thing in the morning. Perhaps there are few teachers at each school who smoke. But my impression is that the vast majority of teachers and students abhor smoking. But is that enough?

Medicine Hat School District No. 76 has a “Tobacco-free Environment” policy A-38 which says: “Effective August 31,1994, the use of tobacco products in the buildings of the Medicine Hat School District No. 76 is prohibited. The senior high school principles will designate a smoking area on the school grounds for senior high students.”

The Superitendant of the Medicine Hat School District No. 76, Dr. Dave Beresh, says that this policy applies to students, teachers and other staff members as well. This prevents students and teachers going in the neighbourhood back alleys to smoke.

Some parents look at this differently. They say this policy encourages smokers to continue to smoke and slowly poison the beautiful work of nature, personally and environmentally, and eventually cripple the cardiac and respiratory systems. As the smoker develops chronic illnesses, he not only becomes a burden to his own family but to taxpayers in general by extensively draining the already drowning health care system.

Smoking is extremely addictive. Perhaps the “tobacco-free environment” policy does not want to drive the smokers underground by banning smoking completely. We face this sort of dilemma in life all the time. How to strike a right balance between achieving results and not upsetting any segment of society. But one has to do what is best for the majority of the people.

What do smoking parents tell their children about smoking? What do smoking teachers tell their students about smoking? What do health professionals tell their patients about smoking? One can only guess!

In a 1999 survey, Health Canada noted the following:

-27 percent of Albertans aged 15 years and older were smokers – two percent higher than the national average.

-27 percent of Alberta male and 28 percent of Alberta females were smokers – the same as the national average for males, but five percent higher than the national average for females.

-25 percent of youth aged 15-19 years are currently smokers.

-91 percent of the youth believe that smoking is addictive.

-54 percent of Canadian Aboriginal teens smoke

Why do teens start smoking?

Mainly two reasons: peer pressure and curiosity. But almost no one starts smoking after age 20. So, can we make teenagers understand the dangers of smoking and prevent them from taking up the bad habit? How can we help teenagers who are already smoking? What do you think of the of School District No. 76’s “Tobacco-free Environment” policy?

Let me know. We will discuss this further next week.

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