Saturday, 3 September 2011

Why Do They Do It?

I know that title can raise its own question. Why does who do what? In this case it is Why do young people start to smoke?
I was driving through my village one evening during the week and I spotted a lad I sort of know standing with a cigarette in his mouth.  I say 'sort of know' because I know his name, can probably guess his age but I don't know him personally well enough to call him anything but 'a lad from the village.'  It's not the first time I've spotted him smoking; would love to be brave enough to go up to him and tell him to stop, but I'm not.
So why do children start to smoke?  Are they totally unaware of the health risks involved?  The message 'Smoking Kills' on every cigarette packet obviously means nothing to them.  A couple of words put there which everyone ignores.  It's there too often, just like the name of the brand.  Familiarity breeding contempt.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the era when the dangers of smoking were first being broadcast; too young to have started, old enough to take in what was being said.  The buckets of diseased lungs in a research lab were enough to make me vow never to smoke and I never have
My parents both smoked but their smoking did more to put me off than encourage me.  I spent years as a passive smoker and watched everything in the living room take on a yellow tinge, from the ceiling which had to be distempered every couple of years (do people still do that?) to the photo frames on the mantelpiece.
I was also too mean to smoke.  I had limited pocket money being too idle to get a Saturday job and I was certainly not going to sit and burn my money.
None of my friends smoked so I didn't have any peer pressure to start and when I met the lad who was to become my husband, he didn't smoke either, although most of his friends did at the time.  So I was very lucky in that I managed to avoid the pressures to conform.
Would I have succumbed in different circumstances?  I don't think so.  Although a shy child I was always my own child.  I made up my own mind and by the time I had reached the age where others might have tempted me to smoke I already knew : smoking makes you smell, both your breath and your clothes; smoking makes everything around you look dirty; smoking costs you money you could spend on other things (and in those days there weren't many 'other things' from which to choose); smoking turns your teeth a horrible colour; and then - smoking gives you cancer.
At that time researchers were only concerned about lung cancer.  Now it is medically proven that smoking is related to many other cancers and other life threatening medical conditions.
I once asked a neighbour, mother of two young children, who was about ten years older than me and a smoker, was she concerned about smoking? "You've just as likely to get run over by a bus," was her answer.
I'm sorry but NO.  If as many people were killed by buses or any other vehicle on the road, there would be a serious outcry.  Deaths on the roads are barely in the thousands and look at all the traffic calming measures we have to endure; road humps, speed cameras, chicanes on straight roads.  Not long after telling me this I was involved in a serious road traffic accident when a lorry ran over me while I was riding my bike.  I am still here, many years later.  My former neighbour, sadly, isn't.  She suffered breathing problems and couldn't walk very far, heart problems and finally died of a heart attack when she was barely in her sixties and before she had the chance to see her first grandchild.
Of course, when you are young these things are not at the front of your mind.  When you are fourteen, twenty seems old, thirty ancient and anything over that, unbelievable.  But kids, you will live that long.  And what you do when you are young may well affect the rest of your life.
Giving up smoking is, apparently, one of the hardest things to do.  Yet many adults struggle through the process every year.  Those that fail often suffer ill health as a result.  Not every smoker  suffers, there will always be the eighty year old who smoked all his/her life and is as fit as a fiddle.  There will always be the non-smoker who develops lung cancer or heart problems.  But these are the exceptions to the rule.
So why aren't these messages getting through to the kids of today? Do they have so much pocket money they don't have to consider the cost of a packet of cigarettes against the cost of a meal?
I certainly would not have had the freedom of sitting at home to look after the house and family if my husband and I had been smokers.  Sometimes I wish I did smoke so that I could give up and save all the money I spent on cigarettes - but then again, I would have to go out to work to earn that money instead of sitting here writing blogs!
As a non-smoker I don't understand the sensations these little white sticks provide.  As a non-smoker I have never needed them.  As a non-smoke I have lived a comfortable life.  As a non-smoker I take no tablets for high blood pressure and have no breathing problems.  As a non-smoker my skin is not sallow and my teeth are not yellow.  As a non-smoker my mouth doesn't taste like an ashtray and my clothes don't smell.
Maybe every Year 11 child should be taken round the cancer ward of a hospital to meet people who are suffering from smoking.  Maybe every child should be introduced to someone who is dying.  Sounds harsh.  Many children experience this in their own families but far more do not.  Statistics can give a picture of what is happening but if you aren't involved in that 1 in whatever, it means nothing to you.
At one time every bank holiday the news bulletin would announce how many people had died on the roads that day in an attempt to make people drive more carefully.
Maybe we should have a campaign for a month or so that announced how many people had died from smoking related illnesses that day, broken down into age groups.  Maybe then the children would think twice about smoking that first cigarette.

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