One of the most recent examples of public health campaigns actually making a difference are the anti-smoking initiatives. As a result of drives to raise awareness of the hazards of smoking and a rise in support offered around smoking cessation, we have enjoyed a significant drop in the USA from the 40 or so percent who regularly smoked in the 1960s, to around 15% now.
However (and there’s always a ‘however’ around something as devastating as smoking) – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 3,200 teenagers light up their first cigarette every single day. And they rarely stop there. About two-thirds will become regular smokers. If this doesn’t change right now, the CDC project that 1 of every 13 teenagers will someday die from a smoking-related illness.
One might think that it would be enough for parents just to warn children of the dangers of smoking, which include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, cancers (of the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, gullet (oesophagus), pancreas, bladder, cervix, blood (leukaemia), and kidney are all more common in smokers), circulatory problems, one research study estimated that smoking is responsible for about 1 in 5 cases of rheumatoid arthritis and worsening of symptoms of asthma, colds, flu, chest infections, tuberculosis, chronic rhinitis, diabetic retinopathy, hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis, optic neuritis, and Crohn's disease, dementia, optic neuropathy, cataracts, macular degeneration, pulmonary fibrosis, psoriasis, gum disease, tooth loss, osteoporosis and Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Did that last paragraph go by in a blur? In 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, confirmed that cataracts macular degeneration, an eye disease that destroys the central vision that you need to read, drive, and see people’s faces, can be caused by smoking
But we are forgetting something very important: teenagers do as we do, not as we say.
Now, let’s take a look at another study.
Seattle Social Development Project, which is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that twelve-year- olds whose parents smoked were more than twice as likely to begin smoking cigarettes on a daily basis between the ages of 13 and 21 as children whose parents didn’t use tobacco.
It is parental behavior about smoking, not attitudes that influence whether our child will smoke their first cigarette today. I often write about simple lessons we can show our children. Here’s one to do, but only if you are planning, as the probably the single most effective health choice you can make for your children today, to give up smoking right now.
If you smoke, bring your family together and take a white piece of cotton, such as a handkerchief, and inhale your cigarette, cigar, etc. through the piece of cloth and into your mouth. You are effectively smoking through the piece of cloth. You will only need to do this once. You will see why.
Then simply tell everyone you are planning to quit, seek support if necessary, then, very importantly, immediately stop defining yourself as someone who is trying to quit, nor even someone who ‘hasn’t had a cigarette in 6 days, 2 hours and 18 minutes’, but as a non-smoker. Quite simply, you are one of those people out there who doesn’t smoke. This is a new identity and an exciting one. And you children will be less likely to smoke either.