JIS News

In a move to address the emerging trend of tobacco usage and exposure among school-aged children uncovered by a national survey, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Ministry of Health used World No Tobacco Day (May 31), to collaboratively launch smoking cessation campaigns.
The ‘Smoke-Free for Life’ initiative promoted by the NCDA and the Healthy Lifestyles Project of the Ministry of Health was unveiled at the national rally held at the St. Andrew High School in Kingston.
Speaking against the background of the findings of a Jamaica Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted last year, NCDA Executive Director, Michael Tucker announced that the ‘Smoke-Free for Life’ initiative would be targeting schools over the next four years.
“This is aimed at the reduction of the prevalence of tobacco use among adolescents generally. We want to delay the age of experimentation with cigarettes as many of our youngsters tell us that they start experiment even before 10 years old with cigarettes,” he told the large gathering of students.
Breaking down the findings of the GYTS, which revealed that at least 37 per cent of students in the 13 to 15 age group have used cigarettes, he said that, “we also know that about 9 per cent of that age group has smoked beady (a small cigar wrapped in tobacco leaf) in recent years.”
“We also know that based on the questionnaire we have administered, 18 per cent of the youngsters that we spoke to, said they intended to smoke because of the advertisements they had seen or because it seems attractive to them; 14 per cent of that same student age group was offered free cigarettes by representatives from tobacco companies; 41 per cent smoked at home, 35 per cent bought cigarettes in stores; and what we are told is that 67 per cent of them were not refused sale because of their age,” Mr. Tucker said. The school-based survey was done among 13 to 15 year-old students in 70 private and public schools Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and other rural and urban areas across the island. A total of 1,854 students participated in the survey.
The issue of second hand smoke will also be a focus of the campaign.
Mr. Tucker noted that the survey revealed that 60 per cent of the school population in the 13 to 15 age group was exposed to smoke in public places, while 32 per cent of them had parents who smoked at home. “Many of the students also favour the banning of smoking in public places, because of how it has affected them,” he said.
“We are resolute in working with our partners in ensuring that our young people are not exposed to second hand smoke, whether they are at home, whether they are at public spaces or any place for that matter,” he emphasized.
The Executive Director highlighted the health risks associated with parents and caregivers exposing children to second hand smoke. “Those of us who smoke in a motor vehicle while carrying our children to or from school or some other place are exposing our children to health risks in the form of bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory problems, and yes, eventually with enough exposure, many people can get various cancers from exposure to second hand smoke,” he cautioned.
Mr. Tucker noted that the ‘Smoke Free for Life’ campaign would take a multi-pronged approach to reduce the prevalence of the problem. “We at the NCDA realize what a significant problem this is,” he said.
He pointed out that efforts would be made to improve parent-child communication, as youngsters prefer to hear about cigarette smoking and drug use from persons closest to them. “Therefore, parents, caregivers, siblings and God parents have a significant role to play in preventing young people from smoking,” the Executive Director said. The campaign will target primarily 3 to 11 year olds using workshops designed to speak to youngsters about their outlook on smoking. In basic and preparatory schools, Tobacco Free Corners will be established in classrooms, which will provide information on the dangers of drug use.
“We’ll have training for peer to peer groups, because oftentimes youngsters have older peers that they see smoking, and therefore we’ll use this grouping to encourage them not to smoke. We’ll have a lot of work done in the classrooms with teachers, guidance and peer counsellors,” Mr. Tucker said.
The NCDA will engage parents through the Parent Teacher Associations and other groups, “to give skills and information about tobacco, and encourage them to speak to their children about it,” he noted.
He said the organisation would also be lobbying support from the Ministry of Health for legislation and advocacy to reduce the sale of cigarettes and forbidden products to minors.
“We are very aware that an initiative like this, where we have community attention focused on tobacco, you have parental education, you have support for smoke free events, you have a leader involved in ensuring and sending out messages about not smoking, you have classroom and school discussions, and you have government policy; with this multi-pronged approach, we should have more success and much more impact on the level of smoking in the school population generally,” Mr. Tucker said.
Endorsing the NCDA’s initiative, the Ministry of Health also unveiled its Healthy Lifestyles Project at the event. Director, Health Promotion and Protection Division, Dr. Eva Lewis-Fuller, who read remarks from Minister Horace Dalley, said messages would be targeted to adolescents. Using the tag line: ‘Smoke Free for Life: Give It Up’, the campaign’s aim is to “deglamourize smoking,” she stated. The campaign will concentrate on mass media messages.
Other collaborating organizations involved with the project are the Pan-American Health Organization and Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control.

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