I had my first cigarette when I was 5.
A close relative had let me try a puff, and I remember I loved the smell.
At that time, I thought cigarette was such a wonderful invention.
I didn’t become a regular smoker though.
Why? My mum was terrific at repetition (some call it nagging).
She made sure that the “smoking is bad” idea stuck with me at a very young age.
Maybe she saw that I had a propensity for smoking. I don’t know.
But teenagers are rebellious and like to break the rules!
Telling teenagers that “smoking is bad” may be counter-intuitive, because let’s admit it, we were all once teenagers and we do everything our parents told us not to.
Which is why I believe the key here is to instil an idea or cultivate a habit at a very young age.
If I was given fried scorpions as snacks when I was 3, I’m sure I’ll be eating that now while writing this.
Why target the young, not the old?
Most smokers become addicted before the age of 21.1
Approximately three out of four teen smokers end up smoking into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.1,2
Of course we want everyone to quit smoking, but there are more than enough smoking cessation campaigns out there. And I would like to offer a different perspective: to have teenagers never start smoking.
Can’t we just let the government handle this?
We can, and these are some of what I think the government should do.
- Ban smoking
Though there seems to be various political, social and economic reasons why smoking isn’t banned.
- Increase the legal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products
Most chronic smokers start smoking as teenagers. If we can increase smoking age from 18 to 21 (or 25!), we can prevent young people from ever starting to smoke. By the time they reach the legal age, these young adults may not find smoking “cool” anymore or may have lost the urge to even try.
- Make smoking extremely unaffordable
The government has increased the price of cigarettes gradually over the years. However, price hikes no longer seem to be effective at getting adults to quit smoking.3 Humans are wired to survive. We adapt, and we are really good at it.
But if a pack of cigarette costs RM105 instead of RM17, would you still buy it? Addicted smokers – maybe. New smokers or people about to start? I don’t think so.
But will any of the above be implemented? Probably wishful thinking.
Can I rely on you instead?
- Instil in your children the idea that “smoking is bad”. Start from the age of 3!
- Ask yourself, do you want your children to be chronic smokers? If not, don’t smoke when they are around. Kids never think their parents are cool yet many end up doing exactly what their parents did.
- Educate our future generation so that the one thing that they will never do is smoke.
Quitting is hard. But “never starting” is easy.
- The path to tobacco addiction starts at very young age. Available from: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0127.pdf
- Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2012.
- Tobacco price increase won’t stop smokers. Available from: https://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/88085603/tobacco-price-increase-wont-stop-smokers