Smoking among young people on the increase

The Independent - Malta
7 October 2008

Despite the rate of people taking up smoking having gone down over the past few years, the rate among the young, particularly teenagers, is on the increase, the director general of health, Ray Busuttil, said yesterday.

Speaking at a news conference on the various anti-tobacco services offered by the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Department, Dr Busuttil said the latest Eurobarometer survey on smoking showed that 25 per cent of the Maltese are smokers.

However, what is most worrying is that while the 2002 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) survey showed that 38.8 per cent of 15-year-olds admitted to having some time smoked a cigarette, this rate increased to 42.8 per cent four years later.

Dr Busuttil said the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Department has been relatively successful in helping people cut the habit, but it has not yet managed to convince people not to start smoking in the first place.

“The 2006 HBSC survey also shows that the rate of 15-year-old girls who admitted to having tried smoking was 45 per cent, compared to the rate of 40 per cent in boys of the same age,” said Dr Busuttil.

Moreover, the HBSC survey (carried out every four years) also shows that 10 per cent of 11-year-old boys admitted to having tried smoking.

“I am convinced that if we manage to reduce the rate of people taking up smoking, we will also be reducing the incidence of diseases directly related to smoking, such as cardiovascular diseases and a number of cancers,” said Dr Busuttil.

But yesterday’s press conference was more about acknowledging people who managed to stop smoking and those who helped them quit.

Dr Busuttil presented awards to three quitters, one of whom, Maurice Schembri, was selected as the Maltese finalist for this year’s European Smoke Free Quitter of the Year Award.

Mr Schembri used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day until he gave up four years ago. He explained that he saw an advert regarding smoking cessation classes offered by the Health Promotion Department.

He said he had been smoking for 44 years and despite having tried to quit several times, he always went back to the habit.

“When the smoking ban was introduced in restaurants, I thought it was silly to have to go outside to smoke a cigarette. This time I did it for my health, my parents and to be a role model for my family.

“I used nicotine replacement therapy to quit, which made it easier than I thought. I am 57 this year and I feel so proud of myself now. I feel I want to tell the world to stop smoking. If I could do it, anybody can,” said Mr Schembri.

Another quitter, Charles Zammit, said he took the decision for health reasons and out of a sense of responsibility for his children, while Antoinette Borg described her strong willpower to stop thanks to the Health Promotion Department’s anti-tobacco campaigns.

Dr Busuttil also presented awards to Louis Deguara, who was Health Minister when the smoking ban in public indoor places was introduced, and Anne Buttigieg, a senior occupational therapist who managed the Health Promotion Department’s anti-tobacco section.

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