SINGAPORE - Despite Singapore's strict laws against tobacco-related products, such as disallowing tobacco manufacturers to market their products to minors, as well as the implementation of smoking areas, the sight of teenagers smoking is still a relatively common one.
According to the National Health Survey 2010, smoking amongst Singaporeans aged between 18 to 29 has increased by 33 per cent in just six years, from 12.3 per cent in 2004 to 16.3 per cent in 2010. This is despite increased youth-targeted tobacco control programmes by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) since 2006.
In a report published in The Straits Times, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) stated that close to 7,000 Singaporeans under the age of 18 were caught for smoking illegally in 2010. This is a drastic increase from previous years.
What drives young people to smoke?
Social influence is one of the main factors in a youth's uptake of smoking. A study from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) revealed that youths who had either a parent, sibling or friend who smoked were more inclined to pick up the habit. More than 50 per cent of smokers had at least one parent who smokes, while 38 per cent had at least one sibling who smokes, and 90 per cent had at least one close friend that smokes.
Simon T., 20, said that peer pressure played a big part in his initiation to smoking. "A lot of my friends started smoking when we were in secondary four. I felt weird whenever I'm around them when they were smoking, so I felt that I should start smoking in order to fit in."
For 17-year-old Janet H., the pressure to smoke came from her own family. "My family members are all smokers. During Chinese New Year celebration last year, my cousins offered me a cigarette, and I felt compelled to try it. I've been smoking since then," she said.
Lack of awareness is another contributing factor. Although most youths understand that smoking is bad, they may not be fully aware of the dangers of smoking. The highly influential media and the entertainment industry also may create the wrong perception that smoking is harmless way to relieve stress.
The lack of understanding of the dangers of smoking means that there is little deterrent for young people like 19-year-old Ridzuan who start smoking out of curiousity. "I saw so many people smoking and was very curious as to how smoking would be like. So I asked my friends to 'teach' me how to smoke."
For many, it is hard to stop smoking once they start. Hence, it is important to help youths stay away from having that first puff by teaching them about the dangers of smoking at an early age. Parents, especially, have an important part to play by setting the right example for their children.
Want to quit? Here's how
Thinking of quitting or want to help someone? Here are some suggestions by the Health Promotion Board on how you can snuff out that habit.
Adhere to the 5Ds:
Delay: Every time you feel like taking a puff, check the time. Then give yourself 10-30 minutes to do something else. Catch a movie, surf the net or even whip yourself a snack instead.
Do something else: Picking up a hobby or a new sport could help take mind off the urge to indulge. Apart from that it's the healthier choice.
Deep breathing: Instead of smoking, take a deep breath and fill your lungs with oxygen instead of nicotine. Slow, deep breaths can help calm nerves when stressed out.
Drink water: Water is essential to the detoxification process of smoking and it helps your body flush away all the toxins making the process of quitting smoking easier.
Discuss: Discuss quitting smoking with a close friend or a family member. They can help motivate and give you an extra reason on why you should quit smoking.
The writer Euodia Ng is a student reporter from Republic Polytechnic.