A growing epidemic of tobacco use among young people
Many of today’s children are tomorrow’s victims of tobacco. Tobacco use, which generally starts during adolescence, is rising among young people. Addiction to nicotine ensures that many continue to use tobacco into adulthood.
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (1999–2008) shows that tobacco use among young people age 13–15 around the world is increasing. In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 7% of boys and 2% of girls currently smoke cigarettes, while 14% of boys and 9% of girls currently use tobacco products other than cigarettes, including waterpipe and smokeless tobacco. As in the rest of the world, the gap between girls’ and boys’ rates of tobacco use is getting smaller in some countries in the Region.
Why do young people begin using tobacco?
Tobacco use tends to start in adolescence and addiction can set in quickly. Teenagers who begin smoking at a younger age are more likely to become regular smokers and less likely to quit than those who start later. Young people may use tobacco to bolster low self-esteem, manage stress, control body weight and as a buffer against negative feelings.
Tobacco use has become more socially acceptable at home and in public. Its use by parents, family members and friends influences young peoples’ tobacco use. Teachers are role models for students, but only around half of all schools in the Region have a ban on the use of tobacco products in schools by teachers. Additionally, only 16% of teachers in the Region have been trained to prevent youth tobacco use, while less than half have access to materials on how to do so.
Another key reason is tobacco advertising and promotion. The tobacco industry promotes its products to potential smokers, including young people, to ensure the market for tobacco continues to increase and that dying smokers and those who quit smoking are replaced. As tobacco rates decrease in many countries in the developed world, the industry is increasingly targeting young people in the developing world.