Younger kids going for a drag
By Becky Somerville
Despite the efforts of government and constant warnings regarding the detrimental effects of tobacco, young smokers are increasingly defying the law and their lungs as more and more Ontario youth turn to cigarettes.
A new study by the University of Toronto indicates a substantial rise in smoking among young people during the 1990s after its long decline during the previous decade. Researchers concluded more than a quarter of Ontario's youth aged 12 to 19 smoke.
Roberta Ferrence, author of the study and head of the Ontario tobacco research unit at U of T said the increase definitely requires some action.
"Tobacco is a very hazardous product that kills people and it's available 24 hours a day," Ferrence said.
She attributed the heightened rates of tobacco use among youth to federal and provincial tax cuts, the frequency of tobacco use in the media and increased accessibility to cigarettes through retail outlets.
"We don't sell prescription drugs at variety stores or guns at K-Mart. We are not treating tobacco according to its product characteristics."
She addressed the issue of tax cuts on tobacco and sponsorship of cultural and sporting events by tobacco companies as jeopardizing the potentially effective strategies taken by the government. Fortunately, Federal Health Minister Allan Rock is considering an increase in taxes and is re-thinking tobacco sponsorship, she added.
Brent Moloughney, senior medical consultant of the public health branch at the Ministry of Health was not pleased with the results of the study. "I think that it is disappointing to see that these trends are going in the direction they've been going in the last few years," he said.
Moloughney also drew correlations between the increase in youth smokers to tobacco sponsored events, role models in the media which glamorize tobacco use and lower cigarette prices which appeal to price-sensitive teens.
President of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council Robert Parker said if the goal of anti-tobacco efforts is to reduce the smoking rate, it has failed to do so. "The increase among youth smokers defies this logic," he said, adding the cigarette industry does not feel a fluctuation as a result of anti-tobacco efforts.
Health education coordinator of Western's Student Health Services Cindy Camp explained why she thinks more youth are smoking. "They aren't really in touch with their own mortality." Young people do not expect to smoke forever and feel they will not be negatively affected by tobacco use, she added.