On February 16, I attended the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Anti-Tobacco Forum, which was attended by over two hundred high school students. While much information was presented, three main facts stood out for me:
1) Tobacco is a serial killer – In the 20th century, tobacco killed 100 million people worldwide. If the current trend continues, by the end of the 21st century, tobacco will kill 1 billion people worldwide.
In Jamaica, reports show an increase in the number of tobacco-related chronic illness cases with Government hospitals reporting 2,255 cases in 2006 and 3,893 in 2008. Extrapolations based on data from the U.S.A estimate that of the 3,200 Jamaicans who die from cancer yearly, 960 are tobacco related.
2) Tobacco is a gold digger – The cost of a pack of cigarettes typically ranges from J$550 to J$700. If a Jamaican smokes one pack a day, they can easily spend over J$200,000 a year. That is not an inconsequential amount of money.
How many trips to the grocery store does that cover? How many gas tanks can that fill? How many university credits could be bought? Tobacco not only breaks individuals’ pockets, but it targets the country’s pocket as well. Jamaican health care institutions have spent an estimated US$4 billion since 1980.
Yet, even though we know tobacco demands a high maintenance, abusive and potentially deadly relationship with us, 1 in 5 Jamaicans have used tobacco in their lifetime and over 80,000 youth in Jamaica smoke cigarettes. Why?
There are the common reasons given: peer pressure, to be cool and ‘learned behaviour’ from family members. However, in my work counselling adolescents there is a major reason that requires attention; it is one of the best ways youth have found to cope with the immense challenges of modern times. As a result, telling someone to stop smoking can be the equivalent to telling them to stop a relationship with their best friend.
This leads me to the third fact:
3) Tobacco control is a must – On a macro level, Jamaica signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 and there is a bill waiting to be passed in Parliament. This bill includes measures such as banning smoking in public places, banning the sales of tobacco to minors, stricter regulations on advertising and sales and placing graphic health warnings on packs of cigarettes. If passed, this will make Jamaica the third smoke-free CARICOM country along with Barbados and Trinidad.
On an individual level, we must provide our children and adolescents with healthy coping strategies. Get them involved in church activities, sports, reading and artistic and creative outlets. Help our children and adolescents develop healthy relationships with peers and positive role models. We must ensure that they have people and activities that support them in their good and bad moments.
On February 16 2012, I joined the movement to help Jamaicans say no to tobacco and yes to a better and more fulfilling life. Will you?
Photo credit: DucDigital / cc