Dealing with children and tobacco use
June 2, 2004
SEVERAL adults were conversing in a house when one of them thought he smelled cigarette smoke. Disturbed, the man, himself a smoker, excused himself from the group and went to the window to investigate. He was right; it was cigarette smoke. But to his consternation, the smoker was a four-year-old child -- his grandson.
On the streets of Georgetown, truants no older than six or seven years' old smoke, unchallenged, as if they were adults. And even those children who do not smoke are forced to sell or buy cigarettes for their parents or guardians.
Yet, amid all this and advertisements by tobacco companies promoting tobacco use, health officials are warning that cigarette smoking is dangerous to human health.
It seems, then, whether you are a smoker or a no-smoke advocate, that there are two indisputable facts: that the use of tobacco is legal; and that if you use tobacco, it will adversely affect your health.
Who is right?
Humankind has had a long history of using plants and weeds for their intoxicant, medicinal or social properties. "Throughout the world and through the ages," according to one account, "plants have been smoked, chewed, applied on, or ingested, and their use has been accompanied often by elaborate social and religious rituals."
After the Spanish successfully introduced tobacco to Europe, the British aristocracy adopted pipe smoking as a popular past time and tobacco cultivation thus formed the basis for economic growth in English colonies in North America and the Caribbean.
But in 1604, King James I pronounced in his "Counterblast to Tobacco" that smoking was "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, [and] dangerous to the lungs".
Today, the use of tobacco is one of the most widely recognized human social habits. Simultaneously, the addiction it causes is one of the most difficult to overcome.
We consider the history of tobacco important in any debate on its consumption so that people can put the arguments for and against smoking in perspective.
Even after having been obligated by law to place "smoking is dangerous" stamps on cigarette boxes, tobacco companies are promoting cigarette smoking as a refreshing habit to rejuvenate the mentally taxing or physically exhausted. Yet, organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) is leading global efforts to force companies to cut consumption and compensate victims, and to get governments to pass laws banning cigarette smoking at least in public places.
WHO estimates that about one-third of the global adult population, or about 1.1 billion people, are smokers, and that tobacco kills 3.5 million people around the world every year, about 10,000 people dying each day from use of this commodity.
What is particularly alarming is that one million of these deaths currently occur in developing countries, where 48 percent of men and 7 percent of women smoke. Even more tragically, though, the global tobacco epidemic is predicted to prematurely claim the lives of some 250 million children and adolescents, a third of whom are in developing countries.
Statistics on smoking habits in Guyana aren't readily available. But the trend here, on the basis of what we see, points to cigarette use among adolescents being worryingly high.
We would like to see adults stop asking children to buy or sell cigarettes and discourage children from smoking. It is predicted that by the year 2020, tobacco will become the leading cause of death and disability, killing more than 10 million people annually, thus causing more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, maternal mortality, motor vehicle accidents, suicide, and homicide combined.
That, we shudder to think, could include the already small Guyanese population.