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YOUNG PEOPLE ARE UNAWARE OF THE HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH SMOKING

Kicking the habit reveals lifestyle shift

A SURVEY published in the daily SME revealed that a majority of smokers support restrictions on smoking. Some 80 percent of respondents, all of them smokers, are willing to subject themselves to restrictions.
Another survey, this one conducted by the Slovak Statistics Office, showed that seven out of 10 adult smokers are willing to kick the habit.

A SURVEY published in the daily SME revealed that a majority of smokers support restrictions on smoking. Some 80 percent of respondents, all of them smokers, are willing to subject themselves to restrictions.

Another survey, this one conducted by the Slovak Statistics Office, showed that seven out of 10 adult smokers are willing to kick the habit.

The data confirms what local sociologists have been theorizing. Slovaks, they say, are not only becoming less tolerant of smoke but they are also viewing it as unhealthy or lower class.

"People from higher society have either given up - or are in the process of giving up - smoking," Ján Bunčák, the head of the Sociology Department at Comenius University, told The Slovak Spectator. He explained that this group, inspired by the United States and other Western countries, places a premium on keeping in good physical and mental health.

"Most Slovaks consider smoking antithetical to a healthy way of living," Bunčák said.

The sociologist added that smoking is just one phenomenon associated with a certain type of lifestyle. He thinks the decreasing number of smokers in the country reflects a shift in lifestyle choice.

Zuzana Kusá, a sociologist with the Institute of Sociology at the Slovak Science Academy, said that in many countries in the world, including Slovakia, people from lower income groups smoke more than those from higher income groups.

"Many people use cigarettes as a tool for solving stress, boredom, hopelessness or even hunger. Homeless people, for example, would give you such a reason. They say smoking helps them save money they would otherwise use on food."

Kusá, who quit smoking five years ago, said that smoking still performs a social function. "When getting together with friends, people might light up even though in other aspects of their lives they are non-smokers."


Kids at risk


While adults are focussing on health and trying to shake the habit, children and young adults are more willing than ever to puff.

According to the Slovak Statistical Office, an increasing number of Slovak young people are experimenting with cigarettes. On average, Slovaks smoke for the first time at 17. The biggest number of addicts is between 18 and 24 years.

Health experts are noticing that Slovak smokers are getting younger. "When I give lectures to school children and ask them who has tried smoking, sometimes two-thirds of the class raises their hands," said Dr Eva Siracká, president of Liga proti rakovine (League Against Cancer).

Siracká, citing data from the World Health Organisation, classifies Slovakia as having some of the youngest smokers in Europe. Slovak children first start experimenting with cigarettes between 11 and 12 years old.

"It is maybe the impact of family members that smoke and a society with few restrictions on smoking," Siracká pointed out, trying to explain the surge in young smokers.

What worries health experts is that few children and young people are aware of the dangers associated with smoking. The Slovak Statistical Office survey suggests that while women and people over 60 are aware that smoking is bad for them, young smokers are oblivious.

"It is astounding that 20 percent of young people up to 24 years old assume that smoking is not self-damaging," reads the survey.


Smoking kills


"One cigarette contains about two milligrammes of nicotine. It takes a dosage of 60 milligrammes of pure nicotine to cause death. Every year, 11,000 Slovaks die from illnesses related to smoking and cigarette smoke," Tomáš Bley told The Slovak Spectator. Bley works at the Slovak Health Ministry's communications department.

"Smokers suffer from a higher proportion of chronic illnesses that lead to an early death. Bley said. He added that costs associated with diagnosis and treatment is "enormous".

Dr Siracká from the League Against Cancer says that smoking is believed to be directly responsible for 90 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses. Apart from lung disease, smokers often suffer bladder, kidney and immune disorders.


Share of smokers and non-smokers in adult population in Slovakia (in %)

Year Daily smoker Occasional
smoker
Non-smoker
1994 27 17 56
1996 28 14 58
1998 29 14 57
2000 32 14 54
2002 27 13 60
2004 28 13 59
Source: Slovak Statistics Office

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