Swetha stared at the cigarette. Surprisingly, the cigarette stared back at her. Was she the only one who’d never smoked before? Perhaps yes, but Swetha was apprehensive. She intended to live long; long enough to live up to the lofty goals she had set for herself.
Standing aloof from the crowd has been mentally asserting for teens like Swetha, but just how long could they stand apart? While parents or guardians impose their views, it becomes quite uncomfortable when one is not perceived at par with others in their peer groups. The same discomfort could also hold true when an individual is forced to be someone they are not.
The vice of tobacco consumption
The harmful effects of tobacco need no explanation. The graphic images on the packets itself are a clear warning of the consequences that may result — such as lung cancer and premature death.
If you keep a sapling in a dark room, would it blossom into a healthy plant? Presumably not. Similarly, if a child is brought up in a noxious environment from a tender age, it becomes easier said than done, to undo inappropriate learnings as they grow up into adults. An impulsive decision, such as one’s first instance of tobacco use, is often the result of peer pressure. This is the honey trap that proves too difficult to resist. Sometimes, the temptation to give in also stems from the perceived notion of social approval. The desire to be ‘cool’ is far too commonly the underlying reason for many a young tobacco user.
A World Health Organisation report highlighted that 9.6 percent of 15-17 year old youth were tobacco users. The average age of first tobacco use was reported to be about 17 years of age. If a large share of a country’s youth take to tobacco usage, the corresponding health crisis will be an enormous one. In such a scenario, the country’s cumulative future could be jeopardised. In order to safeguard our nation’s youth and our collective future, it is imperative to prioritise on our most valuable asset: our individual good health.
With time, many have pondered over how to curb this growing menace of tobacco use. On the same right, thousands are also profiting by selling tobacco to those who blatantly disregard its consequences. And this is despite the horrific images that adorn tobacco product packaging. However, future generations can be protected from this vice if certain bans are imposed on tobacco sale. With that said, just how far can governments go to protect their vulnerable youth?
While the general tendency is to often task the government with inadequate healthcare aids or facilities, the onus lies on parents and elders to a large degree. Children and young adults are impressionable and they emulate their elders or their role models. If they are exposed to environments where tobacco consumption is seen as “normal”, then the “problem creators” are often right in children’s own homes. It is, after all, a futile attempt to hold a cigarette in one hand and instruct a minor saying “do not develop this poor habit.”
Given the advancements taking place in all walk of life, there is definite need for a whole-of-society approach to eliminate tobacco consumption. It must also be acknowledged that tobacco farming, production and sale support thousands of livelihoods in our country. And therefore, there is need for collective effort. Tobacco farmers will need to be reskilled for farming of other cash crops, and producers must explore alternatives. Meanwhile, existing tobacco consumers have to make a conscious decision to “stub it out”. Only then can we expect significant changes in the days to come.
There are numerous initiatives geared towards helping tobacco users overcome their habit. There are also alternatives to gradually wean their bodies off their nicotine dependence. And incentives are also well known to work as positive contributors to giving up this often-fatal habit. Several health insurance companies in the western world, for instance, offer lower premiums to non-smokers. Used car advertisements in several economies feature a non-smoking used car category; they typically fetch higher prices.
Children like Swetha, meanwhile, will be angry if steps that threaten to ‘undo their coolness’ are imposed. They might even protest but it takes a while for good sense to prevail. And when the realisation dawns, more Swethas will contribute to a lasting impact, that not only make themselves proud, but probably also bring about positive change in the lives of people around them. Only then will Swetha be able to call herself a responsible citizen of her country — one who keeps in mind the wellbeing of her fellowmen. She will also be one step closer to fulfilling her goals.