HOW & WHY;
The Evils of Huffing and Puffing
Some bad news about bad habits: Researchers have just released the results of a study on the number of young people who start smoking each day. And the numbers are not good.
The research confirms that each day in the United States a minimum of 3,000 young people--from 11 to 20 years old--become "established" smokers. Two thousand of them are under 18--too young to buy cigarettes legally. (The researchers define an established smoker as anyone who reports smoking at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.)
The study was conducted by the University of California at San Diego and published in this month's issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. It shows that each day in this country, 4,800 kids aged 11 to 17 try their first cigarette.
That's a lot of smokers, and health experts are very worried about the effects of smoking on kids' health. According to the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids:
* Cigarette companies spend almost $5 billion annually on advertising and promotion, much of it targeted at kids.
* 86 percent of kids who smoke prefer the three most heavily advertised brands.
If ads for tobacco are so powerful, what about ads against tobacco? They also appear to work well. For example, one year after Florida started an anti-tobacco campaign directed at teenagers, smoking among middle school students declined 19 percent. That's the biggest decline observed in the United States in almost 20 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"It definitely is a pleasant surprise," said Michael Eriksen, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC.
The campaign included TV and radio ads in which angry teenagers accused tobacco companies of lying about the dangers of smoking. The campaign also imposed fines or community service on thousands of teenagers caught smoking. And law enforcement officials went after stores that sold cigarettes to minors. Finally, teachers conducted workshops where middle school students role-played to learn how to overcome peer pressure to smoke.
Health experts are worried about another bad habit that can harm kids' health. This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported on a nationwide survey that showed that 26 percent of young people have seen or heard about classmates who "huff," or inhale, fumes from common household products such as glue, paint and cleaners. "Huffing," which kids use to try to get high, can be dangerous. It can cause severe headaches and dizziness. It can make you see hallucinations. It can interfere with your ability to learn and grow. It can even kill you.
The AAP is conducting a campaign against huffing that has a pretty strong slogan: "It's not cool to be dead."
Although kids don't know as much about huffing as they do about smoking or using alcohol, according to the AAP, most have heard of it:
* Sixty-two percent of 10- to 17-year-olds surveyed know what huffing is.
* Only 56 percent of kids aged 10 to 17 have talked about huffing and its dangers with their parents.
* 10- and 11-year-olds are the least likely age group to be taught about huffing in school. And they're the least likely to talk about it at home. But they're the most likely group to be personally exposed to it.
"Abusing inhalants can cause severe, permanent damage--especially to the brain," says AAP President Joel L. Alpert. "[A] child could die from using them only once."
Your parents already worry about your exposure to alcohol and drugs, to cigarettes and other tobacco products. You can spare them--and yourself--a lot of worry if you avoid those bad habits.