What can we do to stop the rise of teen smoking? —Joel Spitzer

Long before I started running the Stop Smoking Clinics here at Rush North Shore Medical Center, I was working for the American Cancer Society. My position there involved developing and implementing smoking prevention programs geared at students in junior high, high school and college. I was kept quite busy, speaking to over 60,000 kids from 1972 through the time I joined the staff of the Good Health Program at the end of 1978. In this time period, smoking rates among school age children were dropping in boys and beginning to stabilize in girls. It seemed that the message of the dangers of smoking and the importance of not starting what could very well turn into a life long “habit” was reaching many of the children of the time.

Unfortunately, as recent media coverage has illustrated, we are once again living in a time where the popularity and appeal of tobacco usage is rising in children. Even though we have a better understanding today of the addictive nature of nicotine, that message is either not reaching our youth or not being comprehended. The danger of not understanding nicotine addiction leads to what is viewed by many children and some adults as harmless and natural experimentation with this daring and “grown up” substance. Experimentation with nicotine should not be viewed as harmless or as a rite of passage.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man! Over 80% of children who experiment with nicotine will go on to regular usage with many experiencing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms within months of the first cigarette. The significance of this cannot be overstated. These are indicators of addiction. Nicotine has the potential of addicting over 80% of its users. By contrast, alcohol has an addiction rate of approximately 10%. The odds are against children if they take up smoking, and, if recent trends continue, the odds of children, and maybe even the odds of your child taking up smoking are increasing.

While you may not be able to change the national statistics, I think any of you who either have children or grandchildren of your own, or friends or other family with children should do what you can to improve their odds of not becoming another smoking statistic.

You were once there. You understand how early experimentation can turn into an addiction. An addiction which may have caused you to personally suffer the physical ravages induced by smoking. An addiction which may have caused a difficult and painful time period when you tried to break free. An addiction you may have witnessed in friends and family members which prematurely took them away from you because of their early disability and death. You have been on both sides and know how difficult it was to get cigarettes out of your life and how hard it is to keep them out.

If you are uncomfortable dealing with the children in your life about this topic or feel ill equipped, you are not alone. Recently, I have received a number of calls from clinic participants who wish they had some program for children. To accommodate these requests, I am scheduling a free single session seminar for Wednesday, December 4, 1996 at 7:30 p.m. In this session I will help clarify the addictive nature of nicotine, review the overall dangers of tobacco usage, and, offer some strategies for coping with the peer pressures for tobacco usage faced by children. If you know of any children who are ages 11 and up, I encourage you to bring them to this program.

If you feel you can help these young people, please come and share your smoking and quitting experiences. I will try to open up dialogue with all participants as time permits. You never know how your experience can help one or all of the participants.

If you are involved with schools or PTA groups, please let them know about this seminar. Because of recent trends, I am planning to increase my volunteer time giving school programs on prevention. If you have contacts in the schools, let them know of our experience and interest in providing these seminars for students in sixth grade and up.

I hope by working together we can help positively influence the future of our children. And, do not forget, your future is still being shaped on a day by day basis. To keep your future healthier and happier by having a smoke free lifestyle, remember to Never Take Another Puff!

©1996. by Joel Spitzer

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