Study helps educate youth about risks of smoking
For years, the ultra-cool Joe Camel cartoon brought a James Dean sort of hipness to smoking, and young people heeded the call of tobacco.
Joe Camel was retired from commercial life by the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company. In his place comes Joe Chemo, a reminder from health groups of the hazards of smoking.Though R.J. Reynolds agreed to have Joe Camel hang up his leather jacket, his legend lives on.
The Food and Drug Administration claims that every day some 3,000 teen-agers take up smoking. Itâ€™s enough to take your breath away, especially considering that younger smokers are more likely to become heavy smokers and die from smoking-related causes.
Cigarette smoke contains more than just tobacco. Its 4,000-plus chemicals, 43 of which are known carcinogens, make smoking as much an environmental health hazard as a personal health risk.
A new survey of Chicago Public Schools students shows that health and environmental hazards may not play much of a part in the decision of young people to start smoking unless the hazards are clearly outlined and perceived to have immediate and serious consequences.
In the Chicago study, published in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, students indicated that detailed messages about the physical and environmental dangers of smoking are more influential. In other words, telling a teen that smoking kills may do more than insult their intelligence. It may encourage them to tune out.
What appears to make a more profound impact on young people is helping them to understand the short-term personal consequences of smoking and the long-term impact on personal health and the health of the world around them.
The consequences are several:
Smoking causes bad breath. Teens, ever socially conscious, see this as a real turn-off, researchers claim.
Smoking causes birth defects. Teens do understand they can get pregnant, so this warning also resonates with them more strongly than, say, the prospect of lung cancer in 20 years.
Smoking inhibits sports performance. Teens who compete in athletics take note that weak lungs wonâ€™t help them cross the finish line ahead of their non-smoking peers.
Smoking adds to air pollution, indoors and out. Teens who care about the environment can be reminded that pollution from cigarette smoke affects everyone and everything, from health problems linked to second-hand smoke to big-city smog to depletion of the ozone layer.
Teen smokers often donâ€™t make the connection between smoking and toxins in the air. In fact, some teens who work on environmental projects in their neighborhoods still choose to light up.
The Chicago study concluded that tobacco warnings with sassy cartoon characters were more believable than those that werenâ€™t illustrated.
Using animal cartoons and specific warnings are only part of the war against teen smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recruited pop music group Boyz II Men, supermodel Christy Turlington and professional athletes as spokespersons, and the American Lung Association has developed a program to educate teens about the dangers of lighting up.