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Peer Influence and the Relationship with Tobacco Temptations

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By Dr. Sachin Kumar,  Pulmonologist, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru

Recent studies and policy initiatives have renewed the debate over smoking habits, especially among younger populations. Tobacco consumption has evolved into a global trend. Current trends indicate that although cigarette smoking is decreasing, alternative forms of tobacco use are increasing, particularly among individuals aged 18 to 24. India grapples with severe air quality issues, particularly in urban centers. The danger of air pollution is omnipresent.

What is Tobacco – Dangers and Toxicity

Tobacco smoke is a toxic cocktail containing over 7,000 chemicals, with at least 70 known to be carcinogenic. Among these harmful substances are nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, and dangerous compounds like benzene, arsenic, and formaldehyde.

Nicotine, derived from plants like Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica, is a potent and addictive compound with dual stimulant and depressant qualities. It prompts the brain to release dopamine, inducing mood alterations that momentarily uplift users. Impressively, inhaled smoke swiftly delivers nicotine to the brain within a mere 20 seconds, rendering it as habit-forming as opioids, alcohol, and cocaine. This rapid delivery and the sheer toxicity of the smoke’s components underscore the severe health risks associated with tobacco use.

GenZ and Tobacco Use

The surge in tobacco use stems from various factors, with peer influence standing out as a primary driver. Many children and adolescents are drawn to tobacco to fit in with their social circles or rebel against authority, while others seek it as a means to manage their weight or project maturity to peers, often influenced by parental habits.

Furthermore, e-cigarettes, containing nicotine and harmful compounds like heavy metals, pose significant risks to respiratory health. Flavored e-liquids may conceal these dangers, yet accidental ingestion can lead to severe nicotine poisoning, compounding associated health risks.

Gen Z in the Digital Age & Tobacco Addiction

In the digital age marked by rapid technological advancements, Gen Z—highly independent, tech-savvy, and socially aware—often experiences FOMO (fear of missing out) and feels inadequate when comparing their lives to idealized versions presented online. While technology offers constant connectivity, it often lacks the quality and depth of face-to-face interactions. Consequently, Gen Z faces immense pressure to excel academically, additionally, traditional family structures are evolving, with many Gen Z individuals growing up in dual-income households, single-parent families, or living apart from extended family members, resulting in reduced emotional support and a sense of loneliness. This relentless focus on achievement can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from peers. This pervasive sense of loneliness drives some individuals to seek solace in addictive substances, despite the inherent risks to their health and well-being.

Protecting Youth from Tobacco Industry Influence

To ensure the future well-being of generations to come and further diminish the prevalence of tobacco use, this year’s focus is squarely on addressing the concerning trend of the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing tactics aimed at youth. In certain regions, there’s a distressing reality of children being engaged in the manufacturing of tobacco products and bidis, using tendu leaves, which not only violates child labor laws but also jeopardizes their well-being. The extent of the issue is alarming, from the involvement of children in the production process to their exposure to tobacco products via social media and their surroundings. The objective is clear: to combat the glamorization of tobacco products, often endorsed by celebrities, and to foster greater awareness of their detrimental effects.

The Grave Impact of Tobacco on Health

Every six seconds, one person dies from tobacco-related diseases. Lung cancer poses a significant global challenge due to tobacco consumption, leading to an annual loss of 1.2 to 1.3 million lives in India alone. Additionally, non-smokers face risks from secondhand smoke, which can be more detrimental than directly inhaling cigarette smoke. Individuals who use tobacco and alcohol are 20 times more likely to develop cancer. Each year, tobacco kills three times more people than AIDS, tuberculosis, and accidents combined. If the current trend continues, over 8 million people will die from tobacco-related causes annually by 2030. Among those suffering from tobacco-related illnesses, one in three is a smoker. On average, 50-60 patients treated each week are either smokers or affected by secondhand smoke. It’s time to call to action to preserve the lives of children.

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