Most of us understand the serious consequences of tobacco use. Tobacco products are the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, resulting in about 400,000 deaths per year. Many adults, who generally take their health more seriously than teenagers, try to quit smoking or reduce the amount of tobacco they use.
An overwhelming majority (80 percent)of adults who currently smoke say they started before the age of 18. And this trend is not changing. Every day, 3,000 youngsters become regular smokers.
Children, who tend to have a “nothing can harm me” attitude, largely ignore warnings and smoke without worrying about the consequences. And even if you teach your children that smoking has serious, even fatal consequences, your wise words may not reduce their temptation of trying a cigarette for the first time. According to the latest reports from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 5 million children living today will die prematurely because of their decision to smoke.
So what are the odds that a child will use some form of tobacco product?
- As many as 1 in 10 middle school students smoke cigarettes.
- More than a quarter of high school students smoke cigarettes.
- 1 in 5 male high school students have smoked cigars.
- 1 in 10 female high school students have smoked cigars.
And smoking is not the only danger. About 9.3% of high school students use smokeless tobacco. Kids who chew tobacco are approximately five times as likely to develop oral cancer than those who do not chew tobacco. The risks are real and problems are can develop quickly because cancer can appear within five years of chewing tobacco regularly.
A harrowing story about an all-American 18-year-old reveals the very real dangers of chewing tobacco. Sean Marsee was a talented athlete who won 28 medals. He did not smoke or drink, but chewed tobacco, believing it was not bad for him. When he was diagnosed with oral cancer, part of his tongue was removed. But the cancer had spread. More surgeries followed, including the removal of his jawbone. Sean tragically lost his fight with cancer, and died at age 19.
Clove and ethnic cigarettes
An increasing number of novel cigarettes such as clove cigarettes and bidis (small, flavored cigarettes from India) are being smoked, almost as much as smokeless tobacco is being used. The perception is that these are less harmful than the traditional cigarettes, but in reality, they are worse. Not only are bidis unfiltered, but they are reputed to have triple the amount of nicotine and five times the amount of tar compared with regular brands. They are disguised in enticing flavors like chocolate and raspberry.
Would you believe that chewing tobacco is available in the disguise as children candy? According to Dr. Khalid Anees at the Eastman Dental Institute in London, England, sweetened tobacco products called gutka are being imported from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh into Britain and America. Because these tobacco products are colorful, shiny and often have pictures of children on the wrapper, people are mistaking them for candy. They are marketed like sweetened fennel seed products called supari, which are commonly consumed by the Asian community. It is now difficult to tell which products contain tobacco, and which are harmless.
The Indian sub-continent is seeing higher cases of oral cancer and now that these products are being sold in the United States and Britain, there is concern that many more children will suffer the same fate. American and British governments are working to find a way to resolve this problem.
How do we impress upon children the importance of avoiding tobacco products?
Show them how tobacco will be detrimental to their health now, and give them the confidence and tools they need to say “no” when offered tobacco.