Monday 23 April 2018

Amy Mulvaney: If you're young and you smoke, you're absolutely insane

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, with 5,500 smokers dying each year from tobacco related diseases.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, with 5,500 smokers dying each year from tobacco related diseases.
Gerry Collins pictured for the launch of an HSE advert against smoking in 2013
Amy Mulvaney

Amy Mulvaney

Smoking kills. This fact has been made as well known to us as the alphabet since the warning was introduced as compulsory to cigarette packaging in 2003.

Yet why do young people still continue to smoke? I specify 'young people' as they, as a group, are more likely to be able to kick the habit than someone who has been smoking for 30 years of their life.

As a 22 year old woman, I know more people in my age group who smoke than I'd like to, and every time I see someone pull a packet of cigarettes out of their pocket, my heart winces.

We've been told point-blank that one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco related disease, that the tar in cigarette smoke contains carcinogens, which encourage the development of cancer cells in your body. We've been told that smoking is responsible for 85-90pc of all cases of lung cancer, that it increases the risk of cervical cancer, stomach cancer and oesophageal cancer, to name a few. Smoking can cause coronary heart disease, heart failure and heart attacks.

But despite these facts being widespread in Ireland thanks to the work of the Irish Cancer Society and the Health Service Executive, young people still continue to make smoking a habit, when it's something they could have easily avoided for their entire lives.

For the best part of the 21st century, these facts have been relayed to us, yet it's not enough to encourage people to stop, or to avoid smoking completely. How can someone in their youth begin smoking, knowing full well the effects it can (and will) have on their health?

Are the heartbreaking tales of people who have died from smoking not enough to make you want to put down that cigarette? Consider, for example, Gerry Collins. Mr Collins was the face of a national HSE Campaign to encourage people to give up smoking after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2008 and lung cancer in 2013. That year, Mr Collins, a father-of-three, was told that he had less than a year to live. He fronted several campaigns detailing how his health had been destroyed by tobacco, saying: "I wish I had stopped smoking earlier, I really do. My life would have been totally different." Mr Collins died at the age of 57 in March 2014.

My own mother passed away from non-smoking related cancer in 2011, after having the vicious disease six times over 10 years. Had she been able to avoid cancer, I've absolutely no doubt that she would have done whatever it required in order for it to prevent it from damaging her health, and eventually taking her life at just 43 years of age. I think it's understandable then, that when I see a young person begin smoking for reasons I will never understand, that I feel enraged and heartbroken by their selfishness. There are people fighting cancer that would give anything to be in full health, yet here are these people voluntarily damaging their bodies and putting themselves at risk.

Gerry Collins pictured for the launch of an HSE advert against smoking in 2013
Gerry Collins pictured for the launch of an HSE advert against smoking in 2013

Not to mention the fact that smoking has proven effects on those who are exposed to their dirty habit. Passive smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease, with the risk of developing lung cancer being increased by 20-30pc in people who are regularly exposed to other people's cigarette smoke.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Joanne Vance, Community Programmes Manager with the Irish Cancer Society, said that there has been a "considerable" drop in 12-17 year olds smoking, from 15pc in 2010 to 8pc in 2016. There has also been a decrease in prevalence for 18-24 year olds, from 21.5pc in 2013 to 19.5pc in 2017, as well as a decrease of 6pc in the last for years for those in the 25-34 age group.

However, while the figures report good news for young people, Ms Vance said that there is still work to be done.

"The Irish Cancer Society and other health and government agencies need to continue to work harder to bring these rates down to 5pc. We can do this by engaging with younger smokers to find out more about the reasons why they continue to smoke, making sure they are well informed about real social and health harms of smoking, that the tobacco industry don’t want them to know; and providing more targeted smoking cessation supports for them to quit, in places where they work, live and socialise.

"The Irish Cancer Society also runs a youth smoking prevention programme called X-HALE every year which aims to harness the potential for young people to drive the movement towards a tobacco-free generation among their friends, communities and wider networks using film, social media and community action. It is this kind of positive engagement that support young people to quit smoking, or not start in the first place. Since 2011, we have supported over 225 youth organizations to take part in X-HALE."

While I understand that smoking is an addiction, and I'm not undermining how difficult it is to give up, I think it's time for young people to make a conscious effort to ensure that our generation is the last affected by smoking and its detrimental effects.

For more information and support on how to quit smoking, visit quit.ie.

For cancer information and support, visit cancer.ie.

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