Restrict, disrupt, educate youngsters against smoking

Sata CommHealth is glad that efforts to raise the legal age for smoking over the past few years is coming to fruition ("Proposal to raise smoking age to 21"; Dec 30, 2015).

Tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. We need to save lives, with urgent action to prevent cigarette experimentation and nicotine addiction.

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a critical time, when youngsters are ready to take risks and even experiment with cigarettes.

Studies in the United States have shown that most young smokers initiated regular smoking after the age of 18. Therefore, it is not logical to keep our legal age for smoking at 18, too.

At 21, adolescents become young adults who are more mature, more rational and less impulsive.

Researchers and public policy advocates have proposed three ways of controlling tobacco use by our young: restrict, disrupt and educate.

To restrict, we have increased taxation on tobacco products, which has made cigarettes less affordable for young people. We also have done much to make public places smoke free.

Second, we disrupt advertisements and brand imagery that are associated with smoking susceptibility among adolescents.

Since we have banned cigarette advertisements, we need to focus on packaging and health warnings.

Even though we have pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs, these are focused on long-term health risks rather than immediate risks.

We need to adopt strategies that challenge perceptions of tobacco as a "normal" product, spoil smoking's social acceptability and expose it as no more than a toxic behaviour.

Hence, there is a need to review our public education strategies on smoke-free living.

In this regard, plain or standard packaging of cigarettes should be implemented.

Education plays an important role in preventing smoking initiation.

Sata CommHealth has focused on schoolchildren through smoking prevention talks and intervention sessions in schools for several years.

This is useful, but we need more community and mass media campaigns to reach all members of society. The I Quit campaign needs greater impetus and visibility. It should permeate all strata of our society.

We need to fund smoking cessation clinics in the community, so as to encourage more smokers to quit smoking.

More effort is needed to achieve the goal of reducing smoking rates to 12 per cent by 2020.

K. Thomas Abraham (Dr)

Chief Executive

Sata CommHealth