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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In 1999, many sports writers declared Tiger Woods athlete of the year. Unfortunately, his father, Earl Woods, is battling heart disease and cancer. Tiger Woods does not smoke. But his father continues to smoke inspite of ill health. A father, who is so proud to have raised and trained a complete golfer, is unable to quit smoking! Why?

Earl Woods is not alone hooked on this. Millions of people all over the world are in the same boat. Their pockets and health have been high jacked by the tobacco industry. The advertising technique used by tobacco industry has millions of people on the “weed”. Once they get hold of us, the noose tightens slowly.

But some smokers are fighting back. Over the last 30 years or more, many smokers have realized the damage done to their health by tobacco industry and have sued the tobacco companies for millions of dollars.

On July 15th, a headline in “San Francisco Chronicle” says: Big Tobacco Bashed by Verdict – Jury awards record $145 billion in punitive damages to thousands of sick Florida smokers. The report says that in the largest damage award in U.S. history, a jury in Miami-Dade County ordered the tobacco industry to pay $144.8 billion in punitive damages to 500,000 sick Florida smokers.

The report says the case was history making in other ways as well. Top executives for the tobacco companies, who rarely testify under oath, took the stand to say that their companies have changed, that they are spending millions to discourage underage smoking and are repentant on the way business was done in the past.

Have we noticed any change?

A document produced by Alberta Cancer Board, called: Cancer and Tobacco – The picture in Alberta, March 2000, has interesting statistics on Smoking Behaviour in Canada.

About 21 percent fewer Canadians use tobacco now than did 30 years ago, an encouraging statistic that is unfortunately offset by a grim one – smoking among teens increased by 25 percent over a four-year period in the early 1990s. But, it adds, fortunately, the percentage of teens smoking has decreased since then.

What about Alberta?

Twenty seven percent of Albertans aged 15 years and older were smokers – 2 percent higher than the national average. Twenty seven percent of Alberta males and 28 percent of Alberta females were smokers – the same as national average for males, but 5 percent higher than the national average for females.

Should we rely on the tobacco industry to help us quit smoking and prevent our teens to stay away from cigarettes? Well, that is a ridiculous question!

But the simple answer is – NO, we have to do it ourselves. We cannot even rely on our governments. Governments can pass as many laws as we want. But there are always people who can find loopholes to abuse the system. And we do not have enough money or the manpower to enforce these laws. So, they are no good anyway. What is good is our will power. And we have to search for that within ourselves today, not when our life is threatened.

That is tough. But if it was easy then we would not lose 3,500 Albertans and 45,000 Canadians each year from smoking – more people than killed by heroin, cocaine, alcohol, AIDS, fires, murders, suicides and car crashes combined.

So, be tough and do it today!

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Teenage Smoking

Why do teenagers smoke?

Is it because it is “cool” to smoke? Is it because the idols of many teenagers – movie actors and actresses – smoke on screen? These are the questions asked in an editorial in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada.

But we do not know the answer. What we know is that if you are not addicted to tobacco by the age of 20, then it is less likely that addiction will start later. Hence, teens and pre-teens should be key groups for whom anti-smoking programs should be designed.

Do you think movies and television may have a significant role to play in this public-health problem? Well, next time you go to a movie or sit down to watch TV, think about it!

Do you think smoking protects against dementia?

Well, that is what some people think. But the British Medical Journal writes that Richard Doll, who has been studying the smoking habits of doctors since 1951, says that contrary to previous suggestions, persistent smoking does not substantially reduce the rate of Alzheimer’s disease or of dementia in general. If anything, it might increase rather than decrease the rate, but any net effect on severe dementia cannot be large in either direction.

Which Canadian province spends the most money on health care?

It’s not Alberta. Alberta has the 5th lowest expenditure at $2832 per person. Quebec has the lowest expenditure per capita among the provinces – $2453 per person in 1999. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Albertans continued to spend a lower proportion of their provincial gross domestic product on health in 1999 (7.6 percent) than citizens of any other jurisdiction on Canada.

Among the provinces, spending per person was highest in Ontario and British Columbia in 1997, at $2,746 and $2,728, respectively. The three Prairie provinces occupied third to fifth positions. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec occupied the lower half of the distribution.

Now that Bill 11 has gone through the Alberta legislature, does the government think that for-profit health delivery is cheaper than publicly funded health care?

An article in New England Journal of Medicine says that US healthcare spending in 1995 in for-profit markets resulted in $5.9billion in excess costs when compared with spending in not-for-profit markets. So private health is not cheap!

In the last column we discussed six important risk factors for cardio-vascular disease. Somebody was kind enough to remind me that I missed the seventh risk factor – diabetes.

Diabetes causes hardening of the blood vessels. When diabetes develops, the blood sugar level goes up because insulin (the substance which keeps blood sugar level under control) is in short supply.

Insulin is produced by pancreas. In diabetics, pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or our body does not respond to insulin as it should.

Warning signs of diabetes are many – drowsiness, excessive weight, easy fatigue, constant urination, family history of diabetes etc. Discuss these symptoms with your family doctor.

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