'I tried it at 16 because I wanted experience'

'I tried it at 16 because I wanted experience'

On World No Tobacco Day, we look at some causes of tobacco consumption among the youth of today. What is it that, despite several risk factors, makes a person turn to cigarettes? 
When asked, a Bengaluru student said, “I tried it when I was 16 because I wanted to have the experience and maybe my friends influenced me but I don’t think it was peer pressure. I think, in general, people smoke to follow a trend because they want to fit in and they’re afraid of being left out.”

A student from Mumbai said that it was curiosity that drove the desire to smoke. “The first time I smoked was because I was like intrigued as to why everyone around me was doing it and the enjoyment they were getting out of it. I continued doing it because I enjoyed the high and buzz I ended up getting out of it. I was 14, I think. Some people enjoy it, some just have phases where they feel like they need to do it, others just think it’s cool and want to be part of the crowd.”

According to Federation of All India Farmer Associations, there has been a 22 % decline in legal cigarette sales, triggering a decline in farmer returns due to high taxation on cigarettes. After the constant attempts from the government, the WHO and the general public to discourage smoking, people definitely know the implications it has on their health, and though the sale of cigarettes has reduced, it hasn’t gone down enough to completely stop them. 

“The stress of college life was pretty difficult to handle and I saw that it helped other students be more functional so I decided to do the same,” another student said when asked why they smoked. “I don’t plan on it being a long-term habit. I only smoke when I’m stressed out and it helps me calm down right away. I’ve found that I could cut smoking out of my life whenever it was getting to be too much. I make sure I keep a strict control over it. I always make it a point to not exceed my daily maximum quote of two smokes per day. If I find that my dependency is increasing, I take a break from it completely.”

Psychologist and parent of two, Aabharna, believes that almost everyone tries it but what makes them continue boils down to three main facets -- genetics, parenting and exercise. She says that some people are predisposed to get addicted because of their families. “I had conducted a survey, it was a questionnaire, on some college students and I found that a lot of them smoked because they’re sensation seeking. It’s considered forbidden, so it’s a risk and that makes it exciting. Which is why, if a parent knows and is open about it, the child is less likely to get addicted. I don’t mean laissez-faire parenting, but when kids don’t feel like they need to hide it, it gets boring.” 

Another thing, she adds, is that people who follow an exercise regime notice the effect it has on their body and it keeps them off cigarettes, but that does not work for people without high levels of physical activity.

Teacher and Principal Anuradha says, “Students tend to believe it’s cool to have a cigarette in hand and let people know that they smoke. For boys, I think they’re trying to prove their machismo. Girls on the other hand sometimes smoke because smoking can kill your appetite, thereby leading to weight loss. But eventually, there’s the narcotic effect, and that’s what makes them addicted.”

According to the WHO, more than one million die each year due to tobacco in India. The US, China and India are the leading countries in the total number of female smokers.