Shocking statistics reveal 20% of teenagers smoke

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By Dita Asiedu Recent statistics released by the Czech Medical Information Centre have given parents a cause for concern. Research has shown that in 2001 52.7% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 smoke occasionally. A little over 18 percent smoke at least one cigarette a day. We asked Dr. Eva Kralikova from the Charles University's Smoking Cessation clinic, where she thought the problem lay:

"Parents should educate their children and children should also be educated in schools but the most important thing is the social acceptability of smoking in society, which means tobacco advertising and marketing is very important. Just recently, during the ministerial conference for health ministers of the European region of the WHO, the head of WHO said very clearly that smoking or tobacco dependence is a communicable disease spread by tobacco marketing, sponsoring, and tobacco advertising."

An interesting study made by the smoking cessation clinic showed that besides the banning of cigarette advertising, increased education on the negative effects of smoking can significantly reduce the number of smokers. Peter is a 22-year old student who has been working at the clinic for three years, and did some research on the issue at Charles University..

"In the first year it was 23 percent and among the students of the fifth year, it was about 12 percent. It's quite a difference because the medical students of the fifth year are well educated in this area. Maybe a few years ago it was very unusual to see younger people smoke but now it's normal so I think that their parents or older people don't see anything strange about them. It's also about those who sell the cigarettes because they want to have money and no one controls them."

Vaclav Jezek is 17 years old and smokes 15 cigarettes a day.

"I began smoking at 13 - just to look cool. Then I started vocational training school where I got used to smoking and now I don't think I can do anything to stop... I don't really mind and just take it as part of life. Just as people take a deep breath of fresh air, I smoke a fag first thing in the morning."

According to Dr Kralikova, it's teenagers like Vaclav who are going to find it tough to beat the smoking habit:

"In this age they mostly do not understand the problem very well and it's hard to decide to stop. They are more likely to be willing to stop at a later age and unfortunately it's the case when they are mostly unable to stop because their dependence is too high."

Foreign visitors to the Czech Republic often complain that the country is dominated by smokers. The smoking sections of restaurants are always packed whilst the non-smoking sections - probably one third the size - are almost empty.

Even Prime Minister Milos Zeman often brags that - as a smoker - he puts less pressure on the state budget since, as well as contributing cigarette tax, he will not be around to claim that much of his pension as he expects to die young from the consequences of his habit!