Volume 92, Issue 51

Thursday, December 3, 1998

shifting alignment


Young smokers can afford habit

By Ian C. Robertson
Gazette Staff

Children with a weekly allowance living in the province of Ontario can afford a couple packs a week and it causes them to smoke more, a recent study stated.

A research report conducted at the University of Toronto has found low cigarette taxes translate into increased youth addiction rates. "There is solid evidence that increasing the price of cigarettes reduces cigarette consumption," said Roberta Ferrence, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and a professor at U of T's health sciences department.

Ontario has the lowest priced cigarettes of any province in Canada or bordering U.S. states, according to the Ontario Tobacco Strategy: Progress Toward Our Goals 1997/98 report, headed by Ferrence. If Ontario cigarette prices increased by $1 per pack, prices would be closer to those in New York and still well below Canada's national average, she said.

Raising taxes would be a strong deterrent for youth who are more affected by increased prices than adults because they have less money to spend, Ferrence said. University age young adults may find smoking less attractive if the prices increased, she added. "They're too young to experience most of the major health effects that occur in older smokers and don't have the same incentive to quit."

Nigel Paterson, a professor of medicine at Western, said by the time students reach university, the effects of smoking have already taken route. By the time a smoker enters university, their chances of asthma have significantly increased, they are more likely to suffer from chest infections and are in the early stages of lung damage, Paterson explained.

"Addiction occurs within the first two years of smoking, so by university many are already addicted," he said.

When the cost of smoking increased in the 1980s, the number of young smokers decreased, Ferrence said. The higher costs would motivate many adults to quit smoking also because tobacco companies tend to raise their prices when the tax on their product increases, he said.

Heather McDonald, health education coordinator for Western's student health services, said studies have found university students don't want to quit smoking because they use it as a coping mechanism to deal with the pressures of university life. "We've tried to start programs to help students quit but there has never been a good turn out. They just don't want to quit while still in university," McDonald said.

Health services has a number of counsellors who will help students quit by medical methods like the patch or altering behavioural patterns that cause them to smoke, McDonald added.

Steven Nightingale, a first-year women's studies student, said raising the price of cigarettes won't make that big of a difference. "People are always going to sell cigarettes cheaper somewhere, so it's no big deal."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998