1 in 12 students in Western Pacific uses tobacco – survey

MANILA, Philippines – One out of 12 students in the Western Pacific Region is a current tobacco user, the latest Global Youth Tobacco Survey showed.

This translates to 5.3 million students 13 to 15 years old, or an 8.2% overall prevalence rate of current tobacco use in 23 countries in the region. 

The report "Youth and Tobacco in the Western Pacific Region: Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2005-2014" released by the World Health Organization (WHO) also revealed that Asian countries that participated in the survey have relatively lower prevalence of current tobacco use compared to the Pacific.

Still, one in 3 boys in Malaysia, and one in 5 boys in the Philippines, Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Mongolia currently use tobacco. The prevalence of current tobacco use for girls is low. 

The survey, conducted among more than 122,000 students, defines current tobacco use as "having used any tobacco products, smoked and smokeless, at least once in the last 30 days".

Cigarette smoking

According to the survey, smoking is the most common way to use tobacco, and cigarettes are still the dominant form of tobacco used by youth in majority of the countries surveyed.

The survey also showed that it is common among boys and girls in the region to initiate smoking before the age of 10. In 80% of the countries, the rate of early initiation is higher than 10%, with Cook Islands reporting the highest rate at 38%.

More than 4.2 million students in 22 countries in the region are cigarette smokers, and one out of 100 students is a frequent cigarette smoker who has smoked on 20 or more days in the past 30 days.

Among the countries, South Korea has the highest proportion of frequent cigarette smokers among current smokers, with nearly 4 out of 10 current smokers in the country smoking almost daily.

In contrast, the country reported the lowest prevalence of current cigarette smokers who were able to purchase cigarettes despite their age, "indicating that students are often asked about their age when attempting to purchase cigarettes and rejected because of their age".

Vietnam recorded the highest prevalence.

Aside from person-to-person retail purchase, the survey showed some youth may also purchase a cigarette from a vending machine, or they could get tobacco from a friend or family.

Nearly 3/4 (74.9%) of the students are aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke, yet many are still regularly exposed to it in enclosed public places (due to the lack of effective smoke-free laws or enforcement efforts), in schools, and in their homes.

An estimated 28.8 million students in 22 countries were exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

Still, in all countries, majority of the students are willing to quit smoking and have tried to quit smoking cigarettes, according to the survey.

Other tobacco products

But other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco, waterpipe tobacco, loose tobacco, and other forms of local tobacco products are also commonly used in many countries in the region.

The survey showed that in 1/3 of the countries, the proportion of other tobacco users even exceeds that of cigarette smokers.

And while most countries in the Western Pacific have banned all forms of advertising in media, 8 out of 10 students who watched television, videos, and movies reported seeing tobacco use on those forms of media.

But media is also used in relaying anti-tobacco messages, and 69.6% of youth reported they've seen such messages in media. 

The Global Youth Tobacco Survey is a school-based, self-administered survey introduced in 1999. Since then, results of the survey have been used to advocate for stronger tobacco control measures that will prevent tobacco use among youth. 

Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year, with more than 5 million as a result of direct tobacco use. Around 30% of all tobacco-related deaths happen in the Western Pacific Region.

The WHO envisions that periodic monitoring of tobacco use among the youth will be integrated into national and local health information systems in schools and primary health care facilities.

"Tobacco surveillance and monitoring are essential components of international policies to tobacco control. We must remain vigilant to ensure that the future of our youth won't be marred by tobacco's deplorable harms. To use the youth as today's tobacco customers is unacceptable," WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shin Young-soo said in a statement.  Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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