Teens have few answers for smoking trend
'Everybody smokes,' one says as Health Canada survey shows uptick
Saturday, Sep 10, 2011 06:00 am
Teens enjoying the sunshine Thursday in the smoke pit near Fountain Park Pool shared a puff or two with their friends and openly discussed their nicotine habit as they pooh-poohed the idea anti-smoking campaigns work.
“Everyone smokes,” said Jeffrey Runnalls, 16, a student at Outreach High School. “All my friends smoke and most have been smoking since Grade 7 or 8. I bet there’s 100 kids out smoking here every day.”
A Health Canada survey that was conducted in 2010 and released this week shows that 17 per cent of Alberta teens aged 15 to 17 smoked. That’s up five per cent from the previous year, when 12 per cent of Albertan teens said they smoked cigarettes.
The Canadian Tobacco Use survey also showed Albertan youths bucked the national trend, where only 12 per cent of teens 15 to 17 years old admitted to being smokers.
The local teens agreed several of their peers do smoke, but they were as perplexed as everyone else as to why.
“Maybe it’s because our parents smoke. My parents and my sister all smoke,” said one girl, who would not give her name.
The nameless teen, a Paul Kane Grade 11 student, said her first smoke was one she snitched in Grade 7 from her mother’s pack of cigarettes.
The girl, like many in the crowd, also admitted that she wished she’d never started.
“It costs too much money. It makes it hard to breathe. I quit once for three weeks so I could play rugby. It was too hard, so I quit rugby,” she said.
Shane Vanderkracht, also from Paul Kane, said he and several friends started smoking in Grade 7 after an older student supplied them with cigarillos.
“I think he got them from his parents,” Vanderkracht said.
None of the students near Fountain Park Pool was old enough to legally purchase cigarettes.
“We use fake ID or you get an older kid or an older sibling or sometimes our parents to get them for you,” one Grade 11 student said.
Peer pressure was the leading reason given for starting to smoke, but some of the youths speculated that all the publicity against smoking had the opposite effect upon them, and instead made them want to try it.
“I know right after we attended D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, all of us started smoking. They gave us the stats. They gave us the knowledge. We wanted to try what they were telling us was so bad,” said Vanderkracht.
Several students agreed with Vanderkracht’s theory as one girl added, “If they didn’t make such a big deal of it all the time, maybe kids wouldn’t do it. Besides it’s cool! It’s rebellion!”
The students also speculated about why more Alberta teens appeared to be smokers compared to their national counterparts.
“I think it’s money. We have more money,” one boy said.
That particular teen also refused to give his name as he shared one cigarette with two other students. The three friends admitted that purchasing smokes was a perpetual problem. They all had jobs, which provided them with some of the cash they required to pay $11.25 per package. But they also doubted whether raising the price of cigarettes would deter teens from smoking.
“If cigarettes went up, say, to $30, there would be a riot,” said Runnalls.
Runnalls has thought about the various health risks of using tobacco products and decided cigarettes were the best choice for him.
“Chewing tobacco might give you cancer of the lip or tongue, where everyone could see it, whereas cigarettes are more likely to cause lung cancer, which can’t be seen. And cigarillos taste awful after a while, and besides, cigarettes are cheaper,” he said.
When the graphic anti-smoking art on their cigarette packages was shown to them, the smoke-pit teens were unanimous in voicing one firm idea.
“Just don’t look at them!”
“I’m more worried about cellphones giving me brain cancer,” said one Grade 12 student. “When you do a survey about cellphones, come talk to me. Then I’ll talk.”