KUALA LUMPUR: Many teenagers continue smoking even though they do not find it enjoyable and know it can harm others.
They persist in the dangerous and wasteful habit because of inane reasons like “boredom” and needing it to “hang out with friends”.
Such were the findings of a study by National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) as revealed by the society’s smoking cessation specialist Swinder Jit Jag Singh.
Some even blame the bad habit on stress, but cited ludicrous reasons as the source of their stress. This included the inability to buy the latest gadgets such as the iPhone, she told Bernama in an interview recently.
The study, conducted on 143 teenagers around Kuala Lumpur, showed that the majority viewed smoking as something normal.
Many thought nothing of it and thus even had the audacity to smoke in front of their school gates.
“They are so used to seeing family members and other members of society smoking, so it becomes a norm to them.
“Cigarettes are also easily accessible to them. When asked, they said that despite the laws in place, cigarettes can easily be bought at roadside stalls, sundry shops or supermarkets,” said Swinder.
They know it’s harmful
The study further revealed that 70% of respondents started smoking between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.
About 85% of respondents said they knew smoking could cause cancer and 83% realised that it was also harming the health of those around them.
In addition, 84.6% agreed that smoking was a waste of money and nearly 60% did not even find smoking enjoyable.
“They admitted to knowing that smoking was an act of stupidity, but have no idea why they continue doing it,” said Swinder, who is now conducting a cancer prevention programme for teenagers.
The six-month programme by NCSM started in February and involves 322 teenage smokers around the Klang Valley.
The programme is aimed at raising awareness on how smoking leads to cancer and helping teenagers kick the habit.
Swinder said that there were teenagers who smoked due to more serious reasons such as to seek relief from family conflicts such as their parents’ divorce. However, their numbers were too small.
Many others smoked due to peer pressure.
“With teenagers we need to exercise a lot of patience. We have to be patient with them and show that we genuinely want to help them.
“If we mean well, they will be able to see it and they will let us in,” said Swinder.
In addition to talks, a major part of the programme is group counselling.
The group sessions enable her to better understand participants and encourage them to help one another.
However, she said a different approach needed to be employed with heavy smokers.
“I usually take the time to meet up with them personally at their school canteen. I speak gently with them and make them feel special,” revealed the senior nurse who is also a registered counselling expert.
This is the second of such programmes held after the success of its pilot last year, with 64% of participants successfully quitting smoking.
Many joined the programme voluntarily, indicating that teenage smokers generally do have the desire to quit smoking.
Swinder said that the smoking habit in a group of individuals that could still be considered as children was dangerous if not curbed quickly, as it could lead to other addictions such as shisha smoking, drugs and alcohol.
This is proven through the study which revealed 59.8% have tried shisha while 10% have tried marijuana.
About 82% of respondents have also tried electronic cigarettes or vaping.
She believed that without societal support and that of the authorities’, NCSM would not succeed in its effort to prevent smoking among teenagers.
“Like I have said earlier, it is easy for them to get access to cigarette supply. That is why we need more aggressive enforcement and to widen non-smoking areas,” she said.
She also felt that the support of teachers, particularly counselling teachers, was important.
Swinder proposed that counselling teachers be trained in helping smokers kick the habit.