Is It Really That Bad? – Guest Blog

We always enjoy sharing and showcasing the work of our participants who take the Florida Tobacco Prevention Training for Educators online course.  Rocco L. from Palm Beach County writes that our younger generation has more knowledge available at their fingertips today than any time in history, yet are still in denial when it comes to the dangers of tobacco and its use.  How can it be so bad when so many people are still using it?  Thank you, Rocco, for allowing us to share your essay.

A smart phone can be seen in the hand of nearly every young person today at all times. Sometimes a cigarette or other form is in the other. In today’s day and age of information anyone can access nearly anything at any time. Technology has made it so our youth can drown in information in an instant. There is more knowledge readily available right now than there has been in human history. How can the most enlightened generation be in the dark about such a harmful killer? Some argue technology has actually made our youth less intelligent in their decision making skills for their life as a whole. “For some people, the technology effect might include the idea that unhealthy behaviors like a poor diet are less impactful because they think that eventually, someone will develop technology that provides a cure for their illness.” (Robert, 2015).

It is no secret that any tobacco product whether from a can, smoked or lit by an electronic device is harmful, however, few of our youth who are glued to their smartphones will do the research to confirm it. Yet many smokers I have spoken with reply “We all have to die sometime.” or “No one gets out alive.” These are things that children learn by watching anyone they consider a role model whether positive or negative. Parents usually want the best for their children but “Do as I say not as I do” does not go very far. NBC News reported on a study done at the University of Georgetown that “The more time children spend seeing their parents smoke, the more they’ll smoke themselves…” So if young people are around those who view tobacco as not a big deal or something the popular population does then they will partake without hesitation. Advertising to children has been outlawed, but the bright colored e-cigarettes and candy flavored cigars or hookahs make it painfully obvious they will be desired by a younger audience.

If the information is readily available that tobacco products are detrimental to one’s health, why are our youth still falling for it? I have personally heard students talk about being cryogenically frozen if they become ill to be thawed out later when a cure is found. This is not a new concept but the faith in technology today has this appearing as a realistic option in the near future. Synthetic arteries and such may replace the damage done by smoking or similar so our youth do not see risk as being everlasting. The sad truth is no amount of information, data, studies or graphs will outweigh the “mystery” older kid lighting up a cigarette or one’s grandfather who has smoked since the war and is fit as a fiddle. Every person that a child looks up to is being watched and imitated whether they are aware of it or not. The imagery and personal experience of secondhand smoke make the transition to full-time tobacco user almost effortless.

            In prior years, the “cool” or “bad” kids smoked cigarettes, the athletes dipped snuff or chew and no one blinked an eye. The nerdy children would be pressured directly or indirectly in an attempt to look the part of the popular by starting an unhealthy habit. This happens at a very young age.  The Illinois Department of Health discovered that “approximately 90 percent of all smokers start before age 18; the average age for a new smoker is 13.” Humans are a creature of habit and things that become second nature are harder to break than the nicotine dependence itself. Once children make the decision to change their lifestyle and become a “smoker” or a “dipper” or a “vaper” then they have consciously made the effort to change their lives as a whole. Many things such as lung capacity are impacted when one smokes especially during the developmental stage of life. This could steer children away from being as active or playing sports and could continue on into adulthood and cause obesity and other complications. What started out as an attempt to fit in opened a gateway of poor life decisions.

Once caught in the snare of nicotine dependence students may never be released from its grasp. If nicotine is treated as “Is it really that bad?” then perhaps other substances may be put in the same group. Instead of exercising and struggling to breathe another cigarette is puffed and the cycle continues. Many smokers enjoy having an alcoholic beverage at the same time. We all have an older relative who loves “scotch and a smoke” or a similar combination. The damage caused by these is not always apparent from the outside and that is what students see; the outward appearance of their hero, idol, friend, older sibling etc. and that is what they will mimic.

Smoking has decreased as a whole for our country but it is not completely dead. Perhaps if those around our youth portrayed it as the beast that it is and did not partake then those that look up to them would not either. Tobacco causes many changes to a person physically and mentally. While technology is amazing and useful, it will not solve these problems if the students do not search for the answers and apply them. It is possible that an artificial lung could replace one riddled with cancer due to smoking but this should not be a backup plan for anyone, let alone the youngest of us. No smoking ads on Instagram will not have a greater impact than the people around them. Children do as they see and if they see smoking done by anyone that they consider a role model they will follow the example they have been given. Our most information-saturated generation is still in danger of having nicotine saturate bodies.  Regardless of what they read they will see their idols and think “Is it really that bad?”

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