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Thursday, May 25, 2006

- survey finds smokers starting younger than ever

The age at which people start smoking in Guyana has lowered, with children as young as eight years old joining the ranks, a recent survey said.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), which released the results of data that was collected from Guyana in 2004, early initiation of tobacco use has emerged. The survey addressed the issue of health promotion awareness programmes being included in school curricula at both the secondary and primary levels. Students at some secondary schools are currently benefiting from such programmes, but as the survey showed many of them are still to say no to tobacco because the overall percentage of young smokers has increased within the last few years.

The GYTS, a global surveillance of tobacco use among adolescents and children between age 13 and 15 years, was released yesterday at the Ministry of Health.

It revealed also that the tobacco industry has shifted its focus away from industrialised countries and more towards developing countries and was targeting younger children.

Through easy access and no hassle from shopkeepers, the survey said, very young children in Guyana are able to purchase cigarettes and of the youths sampled a staggering 31.6 per cent of them first smoked before age ten years. This means that on average, one in three students would have had their first cigarette at around age eight years.

Children are lighting up younger and whether they are shopping the cigarettes for personal use or for an adult, Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy said yesterday it is a serious problem and one which has been ongoing for years.

"No shopkeeper should be selling cigarettes to any child and though it is not law it is widely accepted but they are doing it. Shopkeepers should not wait for legislation to stop, they should stop now," Ramsammy said.

Ramsammy said younger children appear to be starting the habit of smoking when locally efforts are being made for adults to quit smoking. He said the education campaigns that target students need the involvement of all stakeholders, particularly parents.

Ramsammy said smoking is not a personal choice it is an addiction, adding that youths are becoming addicted to it. He said that if it was within his ministry's control to ban smoking in public places it would have been banned years now.

"We cannot just ban public smoking without consultations and consensus but we would like it if people would not do it. We share an equal space and those of us who do not smoke are at risk of being affected by those who do," he said.

The minister said he would engage his colleagues at the Ministry of Finance and discuss whether there could be an increase in taxes on tobacco. He added that the national effort alone cannot solve the problems of young children smoking but rather a global effort developed through the Framework Intervention On Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Smoking to

lose weight

University of Guyana lecturer, Anand Persaud and John Mensah of the Bureau of Statistics collaborated in the compilation of the local data, which was later sent off to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) also partnered in the survey, which was school-based and targeted students of Forms 2,3 and 4 in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Ten.

A total of 1,230 students participated: 48.7 per cent males and 51.3 per cent. A two-stage cluster sample design was used to produce representative data for all of Guyana.

Renee Franklin-Peroune, Health Promotion Adviser and Survey Coordinator said yesterday that at the first stage schools were selected with probability, proportional to enrolment size and at the second stage, classes were randomly selected and all students in those classes were eligible to participate. She said the response rate was 100 per cent; the student response rate was 78.6 percent and the overall response rate was 78.6 percent.

Among some of the reasons young students are lighting up, she said, are to lose weight, for emotional well-being and for acceptance although most of them were not aware of the dangers of smoking. According to her, both adolescent smokers and non-smokers were highly exposed to tobacco smoke at home and outside the home.

Of the students surveyed, one in nine currently smoke cigarettes and the figures show that is 14.3 percent of males and 7.5 percent of females. Although female students' prevalence rate was lower than that of male students, the survey found there were indications that tobacco use among female students could be a potential growth area barring intervention strategies.

It said one in three females admitted to having their first cigarette before they were ten years old and this was more than males who smoked that early.

One in three of the students experimented with cigarettes and this rate was far higher among males and females. While two in five male students took one or two puffs, one in five females did so. Two in five students aged 12 years old and under claimed to have experimented with cigarettes.

On an average, one in three students would have had their first cigarette before the age of ten years. According to the survey, some even began before age eight supporting the finding elsewhere that the age of smokers is indeed falling.

Parents who

smoke

At age 12, students claimed they had smoked 20 or more days in a month but the rate was only one percent. The majority of current smokers appear to be lighting up one to five days in the month and this pattern held true for both males and females.

Many of the students surveyed said they have parents who smoke. Among current smokers, two in five have either parent smoking while one in twenty were aware that both parents smoke. However the most influential factor was the fathers who smoke. Peer pressure contributed to youths smoking as well.

One in three current smokers seemed very likely to accept a cigarette from a friend while one in ten said they would definitely accept cigarettes if offered. But only 2.9 percent or one in 33 non-smokers showed that they could be susceptible.

When it comes to the desire to quit, three in five current smokers claimed that they might find it difficult to quit smoking once started. One in five said they were likely to continue smoking for the next 12 months while one in seven were likely to do son, on a longer-term basis, for the next five years.

There were those who felt that cigarette smoking enhanced their popularity and attraction, the survey said. Males strongly supported the view that once they smoked they were likely to have more friends. This view was held by more students 13 years and younger than by older students.

Generally, students are aware that intervention programmes, in various forms, were available for them to seek advice or help. Group smoking appeared to be common among the youths suggesting that they shared cigarettes.

Home was the preferred choice of place to smoke for the youths.

Seven in ten of the females or 72.2 per cent and one in three males or 30.1 per cent used their homes as the major sanctuary to smoke. Other places included the home of friends, which was popular among male smokers.

Among the other things that came up was the fact that many students are living in homes where people smoke constantly, but many more were exposed to smokers outside their homes. Many of them supported the view that smoke from others could be harmful to them.

What was also revealed was that students are being offered free cigarettes from tobacco agents. One in seven said they were offered free cigarettes and most of them are males.

Franklin-Peroune who disclosed the findings of the survey yesterday said that in view of the early initiation and high prevalence of tobacco use among Guyanese students, it is recommended that programmes for the prevention and control of tobacco use and more so, a National Action Plan for Tobacco Control be developed and implemented at the earliest opportunity.

Additionally, there should be scaling up of the health promotion programmes in schools, communities, sports and other structured and unstructured settings as well as cessation programmes as part of the youth friendly health services.

Sale is sale

At the global level, approximately 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco everyday. In Guyana cigarette consumption increased from 232 million to 510 million sticks from 1989 to 2004 and the population is said to be somewhere around 750,000.

The Demerara Tobacco Company Ltd (DTC), a subsidiary of British American Tobacco plc, has been operating in Guyana for over 71 years and has a virtual monopoly on countrywide sales. Among the popular brands of cigarettes are Bristol and Benson & Hedges. Bristol sells for less.

Stabroek News spoke with a cigarette vendor who sells from her home yesterday and though she answered the questions candidly she requested that her name not be used in the article.

"I does buy a pack of Bristol [20s] for $160 and sell one cigarette for $10. It is not a big profit but it does help me in the home and if a child come to buy I does sell cause sale is sale", she said.

She is aware that it is wrong but as far as she knows the children are buying for their parents. The woman said she could never know when the children are coming on their own behalf but as long as they have money she sells them.

If a law is passed that says she can no longer sell to children, she said, she is going to stop but she is not ready to do this now. "The parents don't come is de children does come. What government have to do is talk to parents," she said.

A 15-year-old male student who said he smokes regularly, revealed that he started smoking from age 11 years after a friend introduced him to it. The boy who is currently writing examinations said: "I didn't really do this for nobody. I wanted to try it and I like it. Cigarettes are not bad and I am not a chain smoker so I don't see why it is a problem."

His father smokes and his mother suspects that he smokes. He said his friends all smoke and some of the girls he hangs out with smoke. He attends a junior secondary school and resides in the south Georgetown area.

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