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Child smokers on the rise

Senior medical officer raises alarm

As Barbados joins the international community in marking World No Tobacco Day tomorrow, concern is being expressed about the age at which the island’s children are starting to use cigarettes.

Senior Medical Health Officer with responsibility for Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCDs) in the Ministry of Health, Dr Kenneth George said officials had noticed a two per cent increase in the prevalence of smoking among children, adding that this was both concerning and a challenge.

“. . . our challenge is that the we have noticed that the prevalence has remained stable for adults, but in children we are having evidence to suggest that the prevalence is on the rise. This translates to [them] in adulthood becoming even worse,” he said at start of a sensitization drive that involves distribution of posters from the Ministry which speak to the sale of tobacco products to minors.

The Senior Medical Officer noted that the prevalence of tobacco smoking in Barbados stood at around eight to nine per cent for the past decade.

“We have recent evidence again that the prevalence is around eight or nine per cent — 8.8 per cent,” said George, noting that “men consistently outnumber the women” and that, from a study done 10 years ago, smokers “have longer hospital stays and poorer outcomes”.

“I think the challenge is to make sure that people don’t start, and if they start, they need to stop quickly.

“We know the average age of onset is about 19 to 20 years for the commencement of smoking so we are really working with the shops and the restaurants, the places that sell cigarettes, to make sure that they don’t sell them to minors and I think that that is the message for today,” George said.

Health Promotion Officer Donna Barker also gave details on another study,The Tobacco Survey, conducted by the Ministry of Health, with permission from the Ministry of Education. She said the study ran between October and November last year and involved students from 23 of the island’s schools, ranging in age from 13 to 15 years.

“There was a questionnaire that was done asking questions about tobacco use, cessation, exposure to second hand smoke, their attitudes their access to tobacco and so on, and one of the statistics shows that 15.4 per cent indicated that they were currently using tobacco. Seven per cent indicated that they were using cigarettes at that time, which was last year between October and November.

“This is a serious concern. The results show that we need to explore some more; we need to do some more investigations to find out what is really happening with our youth, with respect to tobacco,” she said.

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