15% of 15 year olds have smoked in the last 30 days. And 5% of children have already tried tobacco by age 11.
These data are derived from the study ‘Health behavior in school-age children’, carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO).
When we could think that young people, thanks to the measures taken in recent years (prohibition of smoking in public spaces, prohibition of advertising campaigns associated with tobacco consumption …) used less and less tobacco, we found these data.
We spoke with Anaís López, social educator and therapist specialized in families of adolescents with drug and behavior problems.
Anaís, what’s going on? Are we going back?
When taking measures, it must be borne in mind that they are temporary and that the objective (reducing consumption) had its effect at the beginning, but as in most restrictive measures, we tend to relax and tobacco consumption is not an exception.
If there is no longer tobacco advertising, in the movies and series there are no characters smoking, that is, those negative references that could incite them to consumption have been eliminated … what is encouraging minors to do so?
Yes, it is true that images of people smoking are no longer displayed, nor is there tobacco advertising, but there are other devices that are associated with tobacco consumption, such as electronic cigarettes or “hookahs”, which can also be consumed in closed and group places.
Also, “vaping” has become fashionable now. It is sold to us as something harmless, harmless to health and nicotine free. In addition, it is presented to you as the healthy alternative to tobacco, since it will allow you to quit smoking or smoke less. But this is not true, on the contrary, it brings our children closer to using tobacco.
On the other hand, at these ages, the peer group moves to the first position on its value scale, with what that entails. I mean that in the same way that their peer group gives them good things, it also gives them other things that we have to take into account, for example, it brings our children closer to certain risky practices, among which is consumption tobacco and other drugs.
The WHO warns that “compared to adults, young people require fewer cigarettes and less time to establish a nicotine addiction.” Why does this happen?
That has a lot to do with brain development and immaturity, in fact, there is a high percentage of smokers who started before the age of 18. At the behavioral level, which is the part that I work with, adolescents sometimes do not make decisions for if alone, but are induced by a group, positive expectations, a search for belonging, so there is no awareness of the long-term consequences, but of the short-term rewards. Adolescents have a hard time setting limits, when they like something, the consequences are not considered in the long run, they do not see beyond that moment.
What are the dangers of starting to smoke so young? Added to the dangers that tobacco itself has.
Obviously, when we talk about dangers we are referring to the effects that are so devastating at the health level, but there is a risk that cannot be overlooked and that is that people who start smoking at very young ages are more at risk to end up consuming other substances. Tobacco is the “gateway” to the consumption of other drugs. The reason is that we lose fear and end up consuming cannabis, hash € etc.
What can mothers and fathers do to avoid this?
Many things, but I will never tire of saying that you have to start from childhood. Prevention of drug use does not start in adolescence, it begins in childhood. If we wait for adolescence we will have arrived very late, when we barely have time to intervene.
Our children must be equipped with social skills so that when they reach certain ages they know how to position themselves and decide for themselves what they want, without having to give in to peer pressure. That they are able to modify the environment and even abandon it if they don’t like it. That they have a critical attitude, that they know how to decide responsibly and not impulsively. That they love and value themselves as they are without depending on the gaze that others have. That they have the ability to choose who they want to be with and that not everything can be considered friendship.
On the other hand, mothers and fathers must be first-degree informants and alert our children of the risks, it is not about being experts on the subject, but about having enough data to inform and be able to answer the questions that we are asked. can pose. You should also promote healthy and self-care habits from a young age, such as good nutrition and sports.
And as fundamental elements: promote communication and truth, whatever happens and whatever they do there will always be a space for listening and dialogue. And, on the other hand, the importance of the limits that are so necessary. It is impossible for our children to stop on their own, if we have not taught them how since childhood.
– Is there something we are doing very wrong? For example, normalize this practice by consuming us …
It is evident that the intergenerational pattern exists. Consistency must be used when promoting positive values for our children. If I say to my daughter: “don’t smoke” with a cigarette in hand, the message does not have any credibility and we can even achieve the opposite effect. Our children learn by imitation. Educate what you do more than what you say.
And, on the other hand, I dare say something that usually generates a lot of controversy, but we should not trust our children so much. We all want them to always tell us the truth, to get together with healthy people, but sometimes this does not happen, so it is important to be on the alert. It is not about watching and controlling, it is about not letting your guard down and being alert to signs that may indicate that there are news or new elements that are making you change course.
Transition periods, like going from school to high school, are complicated stages of change where it is important to be more present and to observe a little more, since many times there is a break with your group of childhood friends and new ones are created.