Shocking number of child smokers

HARARE - Damning new research claims almost two in every 10 children aged between 13 and 15 in Zimbabwe start smoking in a shocking national average.

The ministry of Health and Child Care revealed the figures as part of a campaign to reduce the attraction of tobacco to children after a probe carried out in 2014 by a team led by Shungu Munyati of the University of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) research was commissioned by the ministry of Health and Child Care.

The direct cost to the ministry of people smoking every year is significant in terms of care and treatment of lung cancer patients.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the statistics as “alarming.”

About 6 000 students answered the questionnaires during the national representative survey.

“Twenty percent of the students, 22 percent of boys and 15.8 percent of girls currently used any tobacco products,” read part of the study which sampled 100 primary and secondary schools selected from all the country’s 10 provinces.

“16,2 percent of the students — 17,3 percent of boys and 12,8 percent of girls — currently smoke tobacco.”

The research also noted that 12,4 percent of the children started smoking at the age of seven or younger.

“31,8 percent of the students were exposed to tobacco at home and 48,7 percent were exposed to tobacco smoke inside enclosed public spaces.

“More than four in 10 students noticed tobacco advertisements or promotions when visiting points of sale and more than two in 10 students owned something with a tobacco logo on it,” Munyati’s report said.

WHO country representative David Okello said Zimbabwe must work to prevent tobacco product sales to minors.

“These statistics are alarming, especially considering that only 22 percent of the adult population is estimated to be using tobacco products according to the 2011-2012 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey,” Okello said in a speech read on his behalf.

“It is also worrying that 31,8 percent and 48,7 percent of students are exposed to tobacco smoke at home and inside enclosed public places respectively.

“Youths who start smoking earlier on in life have greater chances of getting addicted as well as suffering from diseases associated with tobacco use, especially lung cancer and other non-communicable diseases.”

The report provides a starting point in the preservation of the future generation from the invisible but consequential impact of the current tobacco epidemic.

Principal director in ministry of Education Jacob Gonese said the ministry was going to enforce measures to ensure tobacco smoking was banned in schools.

“The report is an eye opener, and the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education supports the ministry of Health (and Child Care) in ensuring that learners are monitored in ensuring the banning of cigarettes on school grounds,” Gonese said.

Minister of Health and Child Care David Parirenyatwa, who was represented by the Health Services Board’s Lovemore Mbengeranwa, said early smoking increases the risk of death from a smoking-related cause and lowers the age at which death is likely to occur.

“Research suggests that people who start smoking in their teens and continue for two decades or more, will die 20 to 25 years earlier than those who never lit up,” he said.

“Tobacco exposes people to chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, tooth decay, hair loss, premature ageing, hearing loss, impotence, stomach ulcers and cancers of the lung, larynx, mouth, oesophagus and bladder.”

According to the WHO, tobacco use is one of the leading causes of death with someone dying from tobacco every 6,5 seconds.

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