Rosaria D’Anna, President of the Association of Italian Parents on smoking addiction among young italians.
Being part of a group and trying something forbidden: smoking habit has hooked an increasing number of teenagers over the last decade.
In the 80s and 90s, the recurring symbolism associated with the cigarette identified smoking as characteristic of adults. An attitude that immediately guaranteed the achievement of a status symbol.
A trend that in recent years led the average age of children who try to smoke for the first time to drop further. According to the data of the 2018 HBSC-Italy survey, promoted by the Regional Office for Europe of the WHO, about one in five students between 13 and 15 years of age smoked more than one cigarette daily.
At 15 years old there is a marked gender difference: 31.9% of the girls interviewed smoking compared to 24.8% of the boys.
The motivations that push children to try can be traced back to pre-adolescence and adolescence, to overcome that sense of non-belonging, that difficulty of relationship and interaction that very often is experienced in the transitional period to adulthood.
And as for the purchase of a pack, the minimum age limit allowed by law does not seem to be a problem: about 15% of respondents managed to buy cigarettes at vending machines, while 68% of the same admit to having bought cigarettes at the shops.
You don’t need to leave the house to find a cigarette: many young people are exposed to passive smoking at home. The smoking habits of parents ensure that children have easy access to cigarettes.
But how to approach a child who smokes?
Certainly not through the ban: better an approach more oriented on dialogue and the perception of the risks associated with smoking, perhaps using activities such as gaming and virtual reality to increase the impact.
To better understand the relationship between young people and smoking we interviewed Rosaria D’Anna, National President of AGe, Association of Italian Parents.
What data do we have on the spread of smoking among young Italians?
According to our data, the approach to the first cigarette has dropped further in terms of age, well below the age of 18. This is worrying because the average approach in many cases occurs by the age of 12.
What are the risk factors that increase the first approach?
First of all, I perceive a real lack of educational campaigns within schools. We favour the educational approach over mere prohibition: it is useless to ban without instilling in the children the awareness that they are approaching a very harmful attitude. Smoking is closely linked to developmental issues if you light your first cigarette too early.
What actions could be implemented to prevent children from starting to smoke, even within the family context?
The family should set the example, trying to develop a constructive dialogue to avoid the habit. Furthermore, it is not enough to put photos on cigarette packets: we need preventive campaigns starting from middle school. Teens try to feel great, but the further they go the more they find themselves trapped. We should start with preventive and awareness campaigns: without proper information on the dangers of addiction, we cannot create meaningful change. So wouldn’t it be better to educate first than to find ourselves with a bigger problem later?
What kind of invitation do you feel to deliver to youngsters?
I believe, that they should be aware of the long-term consequences and the difficulty of quitting before they approach cigarettes. Many think they can quit whenever they want, in reality when you smoke an addiction develops immediately with serious consequences in terms of health.
As a mother and as President of AGe I say: do not approach, even as a joke, thinking that you will be able to stop when you want because it is far from reality”.