Parents are being encouraged by the Jamaica Cancer Society to pay keen attention to their adolescent children for signs that they may be smoking.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), statistics on tobacco use among children aged 13 to 15 years indicate a significant increase between 2001 and 2010. The GYTS showed that the percentage of boys 13 to 15 reported to have used tobacco in 2001 stood at 19 per cent, while the girls were tallied at 12 per cent. The estimates for 2010 showed boys at 32 per cent and girls at 16.8 per cent.

Speaking at a JIS ‘Think Tank’ on January 30, Senior Medical Officer and Pulmonologist at the National Chest Hospital, Dr. Terry Baker, said the steady increase in numbers among the youth is a worrying trend, because of the grave risks associated with tobacco use.

“In Jamaica, the use is not limited to the smoking of cigarettes, but is also combined in its unprocessed form with marijuana for the purpose of smoking,” she explained.

Dr. Baker noted that cigarette smoke contains over four thousand substances, seventy of which are known to be carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, is a highly addictive substance and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Jamaica Cancer Society, Yulit Gordon, said that nicotine “is as addictive as or even more addictive than heroin or cocaine”.

She pointed out that youth who begin smoking before the age of 21 years have the hardest time breaking the habit.

“It is for this reason that we are asking parents to be vigilant and look for indicators that your children may be engaging in tobacco use,” said Ms. Gordon.

She outlined that some of the telltale signs include consistent coughing, throat irritation or hoarseness and shortness of breath.

“All parents are encouraged to have general dialogue with their children to prevent them from beginning the habit in the first place, as this is easier and more effective than having to reverse the addiction,” said Dr. Baker.

Children should be encouraged to become more engaged in physical activities and to stay away from other children who may be involved in risky behaviours or habits.

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