Ugandan Students At Risk of Nicotine Addiction
JANE Among, 17, a senior four student in Arua, North Western Uganda says she wants to quit smoking. But every time she tries to stop, she finds herself doing it again. She started smoking in 2000 when she had just joined senior two.
"There were these older girls at school who told us time and again that smoking cigarettes will help us loose weight. And which girl doesn't want to loose weight these days? That is how they got me and two other girls in my class hooked to cigarettes," the plump Among says.
According to a new school based tobacco specific survey, carried out in the districts of Kampala, Mpigi, Luweero, Masaka, Sembabule, Rakai, Mubende, Kiboga, Nakasongola, Wakiso, Yumbe and Arua, such persistent perceptions and attitudes like tobacco enabling girls to loose weight are increasing pressure on girls to use tobacco products.
The survey done by the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) says that physical appearance especially looking slender among adolescent girls is highly valued by the youths and that such perceptions are bringing more young girls and boys to the much-discouraged smoking fraternity.
The survey, done between July and August 2003 among students between S.1 and S.3 of 13-15 years found that 33.1% of the young people in Arua had ever smoked compared to17.5% in Kampala, 18.2% in Mpigi and 12.6% in rest of the central region.
It found the use of tobacco products other than cigarettes such as chewing tobacco, snuff and cigars alarmingly high in Arua, with an estimated 21.2 % of the students in the district having used the products as compared to 11.0% in Kampala. What is more worrying is the finding of the initiation age for smoking to be less than 10 years, with nearly 40% of the young people having initiated cigarette smoking before 10 years in Kampala, Mpigi and rest of central districts, compared to 18.4% of the students in Arua.
"It is increasingly evident that young people do not see smokers as social isolates, which leads to the initiation and maintenance of adolescent smoking," says the report, laying the blame on some health education programmes on tobacco effects that are not specifically targeting the young people like students.
The GYTS recommends targeting the school environment as the effective way of reducing tobacco use and other substance abuse among adolescents. This, they say can be done through school clubs like Red Cross, Debate and Drama, which can also act as useful agents of health education.
"School environment is important for the building of a health foundation of a child and also forms part of the hidden curriculum of the school such as tobacco use prevention education," the report says.
The survey carried out by the Uganda Parliamentary Research Service found that over 80% of the current smokers had ever received help to stop smoking.
GYTS concerns are supported by the fact that making the right decision on smoking by the youths is difficult, since anti-tobacco smoking information in the main stream media is most times diffused with contradicting messages; portraying positive images of smoking and using tobacco products.
These images are portrayed through advertisements in the media, on billboards, at public events and other means like concerts-street bashes making cigarette smoking a very powerful influence, especially when an adolescent model is promoting the product.
From the survey, 60% of current smokers in the districts of Arua, Kampala and the rest of Central districts were not refused to purchase cigarettes because of their age. Apart from accessing tobacco products from commercial outlets, young people tended to use other channels like friends and older people in order to get access to tobacco products.
The study involving 85 private and government schools is part of the GYTS, currently being undertaken in several countries across the world, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the US Centre for Disease Control, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education and Sports.