‘Smoking is injurious to health’. All of us have come across this message time and again in our life. Indeed, almost everyone is aware of the hazards of smoking tobacco – lung cancer, mouth cancer, heart problems, respiratory disorders and so on. The list is endless. Yet a large chunk of the world’s population is addicted to smoking. In India, smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths. And a major part of the tobacco-smoking population of the country is the youth.
India is often regarded as a ‘Young Nation’. With the youth comprising more than forty percent of our total population, the rapid increase of smoking among youngsters is an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
In order to combat this problem in the most effective way, we need to understand what causes youngsters to smoke. Various studies have revealed that most smokers acquired the habit while they were in college. Most youngsters experience the transition from adolescence to adulthood when they join college. For many, it is the first time in their lives that they move away from their parents and start living on their own. Hence, they feel liberated and empowered to make their own decisions. The urge to try new things always exists among humans. This urge is at its greatest intensity during one’s youth. Thus, most people smoke their first cigarette while they are in college.
A trend which has recently become popular among the youth is ‘Social Smoking’. Many young smokers identify themselves as ‘social smokers’, who smoke only occasionally, mostly when they go out to party or when they are with others who smoke. A common perception among young people is that smoking occasionally is not all that harmful. What they do not know is that whether you smoke once in a while or regularly you are equally prone to its damaging effects. Also, it is this occasional smoking which ultimately culminates into tobacco and nicotine addiction.
Addiction to smoking is closely related to peer pressure. Most youngsters get into smoking because their friends smoke. “I had never smoked before in my life before I came to college. Most of my college friends are smokers. I used to feel out of place whenever I was with them because I never used to smoke. Often, they used to urge me to try it out. After I tried in once, I thought there was no harm in smoking once in a while, when I was out with my friends. Now, almost six months later, I just can’t stop!” says Niharika Chawla, a student.
Many college-goers smoke because they believe it to be a stress-buster. Vikalp Chhabra, a post-graduate student from Pune says, “I was a social smoker for a very long time. I knew I wasn’t addicted because, often, I used to go without smoking for months. However, when I joined college, I started smoking regularly. We have a very hectic schedule and loads of pressure in college. Cigarette helps me relax my mind and reduces stress. Now, I have to smoke atleast once in 3-4 hours. If I don’t I get irritable.”
Many measures have been taken in the recent past in order to prevent smoking. Cities like Chandigarh and many others have been made completely smoke-free. Most educational institutes have been made smoke-free campuses. But does that discourage people from smoking? “It really does not matter that Chandigarh is smoke-free. Nobody really bothers to check you. I openly smoke on the streets. There are places in my college campus where we all go and smoke and no one ever catches us.” says Navratan Singh, a student in Chandigarh.
Thus, the first thing that one needs to look into is stricter enforcement of anti-smoking laws. The number of smoke-free zones should be increased and such areas should be under more vigilant surveillance. Also, it is clear that shallow knowledge regarding the harmful effects of smoking is not enough to make youngsters refrain from the habit. Workshops and awareness programs should be conducted, not only at college but also at school level, so that students become aware of the hazards of smoking early on in life. The Government has already banned advertising of tobacco products. Another step that can be taken is to hike cigarette prices, since college students are mostly on a budget and most of them will always think twice before buying something expensive.
When you smoke a cigarette, you inhale over five hundred harmful chemicals along with the nicotine. Nicotine has been rated the most harmful drug, just after heroin and cocaine. While we casually smoke, we do not realize what it does to our system. Studies have shown that the life-span of smokers is 20 to 25 years less than those of non-smokers.
All measures kept aside, in the end, it is a personal choice. Youth is the most precious phase of one’s life. One can either make the most of it or waste it and die a slow death. My only appeal to young smokers is, if you do not smoke, do not ever try it. And if you do, stop right now before it’s too late. Remember, it is not ‘cool’ to let your life go up in smoke.