Teens lighting up less due to smoking counter measures


Patrick Casey

Teens lighting up less due to smoking counter measures

By Blaise Mesa

Young people may becoming less prone to smoking-related fatalities, although cancer-related deaths are still prevalent nationwide and smoking is still a leading cause of these deaths, according to a new American Cancer Society study.

More than 45 percent of cancer-related deaths in the nation from 2011–2014, were caused by preventable factors, such as over-consumption of red meats. But the most common cause was cigarette smoking, according to the Nov. 21 ACS study

Of the cases studied, cigarette smoking was found to be responsible for 19 percent of all preventable cancer cases. It was also the highest preventable risk factor in men and the second highest in women, according to the study. 

Despite a 25 percent decrease in cancer mortality nationally since 1991, the ACS report estimates another 600,000 people will die nationwide from cancer in 2017, a slight increase from the 595,000 deaths reported the previous year. 

“The findings of this study are not surprising and something we have been aware of in the oncology field for a long time. There are a lot of psychosocial factors involved that may lead a person to engage in unhealthy lifestyles, such as emotional, mental, and/or physical trauma during childhood,” said Eugene Ahn medical doctor and medical director of clinical research and hematologist and oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in a Nov. 30 emailed statement to The Chronicle.

In Illinois, Cook County represented 38 percent of all statewide diagnosed cancer cases from 2010–2014. 

Health experts believe the slight increase in these cancer deaths is due to resistance to changing lifestyle habits. 

“We are a pleasure seeking species,” said Andrew Gallan, assistant professor in the department of Marketing at DePaul University and researcher in patient and heath relations. A lot of education has gone toward the dangers of smoking, and no level of smoking is ever good, he added. 

The increase in education, along with other programs, seems to be working. While a survey indicated that 99 percent of cigarette smokers nationwide tried smoking by 26, with 90 percent under 18, fewer young people are picking up the habit. High school student smokers have dropped from 15.8 percent to 8 percent since 2011, according the the Center for Disease Control.

“I’m hopeful [for positive changes in smoking habits],” said Dr. Mark Loafman of Cook County Health and Hospitals System,” Loafman said. “[But] it’s hard to imagine why we continue to sell cigarettes or making smoking an easy thing to do.” 

We need to step up our efforts to fight the smoking problems, Loafman added. 

To combat youth smoking, Chicago has rolled out many new programs, such as smoke-free laws—which prevent smoking indoors, air anti-smoking campaigns on TV, increase the cost of cigarettes and enactprograms like “Nobody quits like Chicago.” 

“[Increasing the cost of cigarettes is] one clear proven way to decrease youth smoking, [along with] great smoke-free laws, [that] simply make [smoking] less convenient and less alluring,” said Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based organization striving to prevent lung disease. 

From 2001–2013, teen smoking in Chicago decreased by nearly 60 percent, and Chicago was recognized as a national leader in cessation efforts, according to a March 2014 Healthy Chicago Spotlight report. 

The rate of youth smoking could decrease even more with the increase of the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 in July 2016, Africk said. 

“People addicted to tobacco need help to quit smoking,” Africk said. “You can’t just tell them it’s bad for you. You [have] to help them when they want to quit.” 

Although the numbers are falling, an estimated 6,300 Illinois teens become new smokers each year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. 

 An effective strategy to deter young people from smoking could be price increases, Loafman agreed. 

A 2016 study by the National Cancer Institute found that a 10 percent increase in tobacco prices decreased the consumption levels by 4 percent in high-income countries, and by 5 percent in low- and middle-income countries. 

“We should use all reasonable means to attack [cancer deaths]. What we have learned is that there is not a single switch you can flip, and fix it” Loafman said. “Having quit lines to call, support groups and public awareness [is what is needed].”