The health risks related to smoking behaviour have been well documented since the middle of the 20th century; the scientific community and associations that fight against tobacco use have communicated the dangers of cigarette smoking on a grand scale over the recent decades. However, the figures related to consumption are still as high. Even worse, they show a significant increase in some age groups and for women in particular, despite the legislative and regulatory arsenal as well as awareness campaigns organised by the public authorities. Taking into account cosmetic damage, serious illnesses and the considerable impact on budgets, why do so many people smoke?
This is the key question as, once that addiction has taken hold, everyone knows that to stop cigarette smoking is a long and difficult process. The reasons we begin smoking and those that make us continue are very different.
Parents, educators, friends and family all play a vital role in preventing younger generations from entering into tobacco use. A greater understanding of why young people begin smoking is important when initiating dialogue and guiding them to a life without tobacco.
The very first cigarette is often smoked during the teenage years, at that vulnerable and decisive age when character is being formed, when friends count above all and when social acceptance is the goal while moving away from the family unit. During this time, teenagers experiment with all kinds of high-risk behaviour that is sometimes subversive and often encouraged by peer influence, to shed the perfect child image held by their parents, in order to grow up and become independent. In this way, cigarettes can help symbolically to pass from the status of adolescent to adult.
Once the rocky teenage years are over, it is easy to imagine that young people will think more rationally and assess the drawbacks of cigarette consumption (financial impact, addiction, breathlessness, aesthetic damage, etc.). However, many continue consuming tobacco after this initial experimentation. It’s true to say that health warnings have little influence at an age when we feel invincible and believe that the consequences of tobacco-related diseases are improbable and far off. Young people are also convinced – wrongly, of course – that they can quit smoking without any problem as soon as they decide to do so. But the door may already have closed behind them and nicotine addiction may have insidiously set up home, forcing them inexorably to smoke.