Students vs smoking

Sixteen and 17-year-olds at a Karditsa high school have stopped sneaking into its hidden recesses to puff on a cigarette and instead have declared war on smoking. Over the last three years, the Second General High School of Karditsa has been the core of an anti-smoking campaign by and for schoolchildren, possibly one of the few occasions in the educational community where it is not experts, but pupils who are extolling the dangers of smoking, the effects of advertising and peer pressure and the motives that drive younger children to tobacco. Assisted by teachers Argyris Marinos and Sotiris Petrou, the pupils in the last three years have produced two studies within the framework of health education in collaboration with the «Theageneio» Anti-Cancer Hospital of Thessaloniki, which provided material and specialist doctors for lectures. Over 300 schoolchildren filled out a questionnaire that helped sketch the profile of the average student smoker and the way he is dealt with by his family. In tandem, there were speeches by cardiologists and lung specialists, photographic exhibitions and articles on smoking. Imitators quickly followed, in the shape of the Fourth Senior High School of Karditsa, whose pupils are undertaking similar research. One of the findings of the study was that the overwhelming majority of pupils, 80 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls, began smoking when they were under 15. Thirty percent of girls who smoke tried their first cigarette when under 13 years old. Eighteen percent of pupils smoke in the first and second classes of senior high, with girls outnumbering the boys. What the coordinators of the research campaign found noteworthy was the parents’ reaction. Parents with high school or higher education initially react mildly to the discovery that their child smokes, but then bombard their child with a stream of advice and lectures in order to try to get the child to quit. By contrast, parents with a lower level of education react sharply at first, but then lapse into near-indifference. The antidote to nicotine and the other addictive substances contained in cigarettes is exercise and sport. As research has shown, most students engage in sporting activities, but few smokers (only 7 percent of girl smokers) are members of a sports club in their area. From the research carried out within the classrooms, it seems that the majority of children who smoke have parents who are smokers. One in two smokers replied that their father smoked systematically. But the parents’ educational level also plays an important role. A large proportion of children whose parents have only basic education are smokers. A small number of the students who answered the questionnaire were not aware of the dangers posed to the embryo by smoking. Girls are most bothered by other people smoking but this does not extend to when they smoke. Sixty-three percent of pupils stated that people smoking next to them bothered them, despite the fact that 25 percent of them smoked themselves. Although most pupils have heard lectures and read leaflets on the harmful effects of smoking, they continue to smoke. Many girls believe that they will be smoking 10 years from now, probably a sign of their inability to quit smoking. Schoolchildren first come into contact with smoking with friends in places of entertainment, at home, at a friends’ houses and a small percentage start smoking at home. Curiosity, not advertising, spurs pupils to try their first cigarette, though the latter does play a minor role, according to the two studies. But the brand names that students choose are those that are most widely advertised. However, the Karditsa high school pupils observed that their small campaign has already helped to curb the number of schoolchildren who smoke.

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