Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Concern over 50 youths becoming smokers daily

Kota Kinabalu: The Education Ministry needs to look at the prevention of smoking in adolescence very seriously.

Making the call, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) Vice-President, Assoc. Prof. Dr Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamed, advocated prevention and said the Ministry must introduce topics or relevant activities to raise awareness among schoolchildren on the dangers of smoking.

"They may carry this knowledge through adulthood and increase their resilience to say 'No' (Tak Nak) to high-risk behaviour, including smoking, alcohol, bullying or rempit (illegal racing)," he said after presenting a paper on Pharmacotherapy/New Agents for Smoking Cessation at the recent Certified Smoking Cessation Service Provider (CSCSP) programme.

He was asked to comment on the increasing incidence of schoolchildren taking up smoking. Forty-five to 50 youths reportedly start to take up smoking daily. The programme was jointly organised by MPS and the Malaysian Academy of Pharmacy.

Dr Mohamad, who is the Chief Co-ordinator of the CSCSP, said the second preventive measure should stem from the behaviour of adults.

Saying children have a 2.5-time higher risk of becoming smokers when they have parents who smoke, he said adults who don't smoke or give up smoking will act as "role models" to their adolescent children.

He opined that the tobacco industry used this as a "loophole" to increase smoking among youths.

According to him, they (industry) previously launched a youth smoking prevention programme with the tagline "Smoking is an adult choice".

"Thus some of them have the urge to smoke when they see the tagline because they can't wait to become adults in order to smoke." "This is because young people tend to emulate or copy adult behaviour."

Quoting statistics from the Third National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), Dr Mohamad said the mean initiation age (MIA) or starting age for smoking among current and frequent smokers was 13.6 years, similar between urban and rural respondents.

"Males started smoking earlier (13.6 years) versus females (14.1 for current against 14.4 years for frequent smokers)."

However, he said the MIA of experimental smokers was even much earlier - 12.9 years, earlier among rural (12.8 years) versus urban (13.1 years) respondents. "Males started smoking even earlier (12.8 years) than females (14.3 years)."

Dr Mohamad, who also heads the Pharmacy Practice Department of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuantan, is optimistic that the pictorial health warning to be imposed on cigarette packs from next year (as announced by Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai) will act as a greater deterrent compared with the text warning presently used on the side of the packet.

"It has little impact because people don't pay much attention to it but a picture is very good as it is worth a thousand words. It is very clear and tells the dangers of tobacco use, especially cigarette smoking. People will now see actually what would happen from smoking."

In addition, he said the move will prevent the cigarette pack from becoming the main advertising tool being used by the industry.

"Restaurant owners, for example, will be less willing to display the cigarette pack on the table in their establishments."

Asked whether the TV advertising ban on tobacco use has been effective, the Associate Professor said: "Yes, to a certain degree because advertising is mainly used as a trigger mechanism for smoking. I have asked smokers whether they think of cigarettes when they look at a brand name of the product related to tobacco. Their answer was 'Yes, of course'."

On the current trend of young women resorting to cigarettes, Dr Mohamad said there are a few reasons for this and one could be attributed to marketing strategies by the tobacco industry.

"Tobacco products especially cigarettes have been projected as a method to glamourise life and a form of entertainment, and more importantly to keep their weight down."

Dispelling this misconception, he said by right, smoking is not an effective and safe way to reduce or to maintain weight.

"There are more effective methods like proper diet management and exercises."

According to Dr Mohamad, the cigarette contains some chemicals that would suppress one's appetite. "So you don't eat as much when you smoke but you are at the health risk of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. This is all proven, so why do you want to smoke because of your weight when on the other hand, it exposes you to health problems?"

Dr Mohamad said young women were probably influenced by pictures of models who are slim and good-looking but they are puffing away in entertainment circles or the fashion industry. "Thus it repeats the vicious cycle where young ladies want to emulate the models, thinking it's part of their lifestyle."

He added that the trend could also be due to our social environment in urban centres. "More and more women are entering the workforce, and beginning to socialise, so when they see their male counterparts offering cigarettes, they (women) too want to do the same thing."

Earlier, in his paper on the "Epidemiology of Tobacco Use", Dr Mohamad said smoking causes an annual death of 10,000 people in Malaysia.

"About 10 to 20 per cent of all deaths in Malaysia are due to smoking.

Most of the deaths are due to heart disease, cancer and stroke," he told the participants.

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