He came down the road with cigarette in his hand. I waved at him; he smiled at me and threw away the almost finished cigarette inhaling the last puff. As we sat down to talk, he lit up another cigarette; with its smoke surrounding us he began his story. “I was 12 when I took a puff of my first cigarette. My brothers used to smoke a lot and asked me if I wanted to try, so I tried to just cool among them. I didn’t know that smoking was injurious to health back then, I know it’s bad for my health now but I don’t want to quit , I don’t think it’s doing me any harm like alcohol. I used to go far from my home to buy cigarettes and smoke. I got habituated after a year, first I wanted to look cool and now it’s like daily ritual of my life. I light up a cigarette as soon as I wake up and may be finish a packet per day,” said Luke* , who is now a 23 year -old man.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US, nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by the age of 18. “It common for students as young as 13 year-old to smoke hukka or cigarette these days. They go out with their friends and try out cigarette to blend in the crowd and sometimes even get addicted to it. When we come across cases like these, we usually give warning and try to counsel students describing them the consequences of smoking cigarette and tobacco products ,”said Rajan Shrestha, the principal of Pioneer Public School.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study (2010-11), use of cigarette and tobacco products in students ages 13–15 in Nepal is 3% and 19% respectively. Countries like US, Germany and Norway have strict rules against the distribution and use of tobacco products or cigarettes by minors. Although it’s illegal to sell cigarettes and tobacco products to minors in Nepal, children as young as 12 or 13 year-old can be seen smoking and buying cigarettes. This can also be due to external influences like media and family. Children usually spend much of their time watching movies and using internet where they can see their favorite celebrities smoking cigarettes and sometimes parents in Nepal also tend to send their children to buy cigarettes which can cause negative impact on a young child’s mind.
“I think problem of adolescent smoking differs according to geographical area. I think many schools in Kapan face this problem; I have even talked to the local police to reduce this trend. I know that the health ministry of Nepal has passed a law which requires license to sell cigarettes like alcohol, this would surely reduce the chances of a young teenager buying cigarettes and using it but this law still has to be implemented effectively.
Although we teach students about negative consequences of smoking through heath science, it’s not effective otherwise we would be able to stop students from taking the first puff. Our education system needs be more practical,” said Bibek Bingyee, the principal of Jugal English Medium School.
“I know quitting smoking is hard especially when you start so young. I smoked my first cigarette when I was 15; I tried it with my friends just for fun but later became addicted to it as I felt relieved when I used to smoke. I have been smoke free for three years now and it’s a wonderful feeling. I no longer waste my energy smoking and whenever I get the urge I try to concentrate on productive things like writing or sketching,”said Chris*, a healthy 23 year- old man.
Smoking from young age can lead to various respiratory and non respiratory diseases including nicotine addiction and is often associated to risk of other drug use. Long-term health consequences of youth smoking are reinforced by the fact that most young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke throughout adulthood.
Young teenagers are often taught that smoking is injurious to health but the number of youngsters smoking just keeps rising instead. Although minors are not allowed to smoke or buy any tobacco products, it’s common to find young teenagers smoking and getting trapped in this vicious cycle.
The narrow allies of Kathmandu are the perfect place to spot these young smokers and only the implementation of the law might not work. In order to eradicate this problem from the root itself, the whole community needs to come together. Teenagers will continue to smoke as long as they think it’s cool and as long as there is peer pressure. There needs to be a wide spread initiative to put an end to this harmful practice once and for all.