Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Reporter
The number of youths between 13 and 15 years who are smoking is almost similar to that of adults who also smoke, a recent survey on the prevalence of tobacco use in youths has shown.
Presenting results of the study titled the “Global Youths Tobacco Survey” (GYTS) in Harare on Wednesday, Dr Shungu Munyati, a researcher with the Biomedical Research and Training Institute (BRTI), said 20 percent of youths between 13 and 15 years were using tobacco products.
The prevalence rate of tobacco use in the age group is almost similar to that of smoking adults who constitute 22 percent, according to the recent Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey.
Dr Munyati said youths in the same age group who actually smoked cigarettes constituted 16,2 percent.
She revealed that the number of girls smoking was almost equivalent to that of boys, with girls accounting for 15 percent of all those who were smoking.
Dr Munyati said a further 31,8 percent of the youths were exposed to second hand smoking from the homes they lived, while 48,7 percent were exposed to second hand smoking in public places.
She said while the number of youths who smoked was alarming, a majority of them wanted to quit.
“We also found out that six in 10 current smokers tried to stop smoking in the past 12 months and almost seven in 10 smokers wanted to stop smoking immediately,” he said. “This shows that smoking is addictive and requires a support system to assist youths in quitting.”
Officially launching the report, Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa expressed concern over early use of tobacco by teenagers, saying this exposed them to chronic respiratory diseases.
“This informs us that our youths in schools are using tobacco and this means we should enhance our capacity as a country to rapidly design, implement and evaluate tobacco control and prevention programmes,” said Dr Parirenyatwa in a speech read on his behalf by chairman of the Health Services Board Dr Lovemore Mbengeranwa.
“This will save lives, reduce illness and help reduce the economic burden associated with tobacco-related illness and lost productivity. The majority of youths in Zimbabwe report exposure to second hand smoke in multiple venues with 31,8 percent at home and 48,7 percent inside enclosed public places.
“Given that there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoking, policies that will protect youths from possible exposure are needed.”
Dr Parirenyatwa said early exposure to tobacco use shorten an individual’s lifespan.
“Every six seconds someone dies from tobacco use,” he said. “Starting to smoke at younger ages increase the risk of death from smoking-related causes and lowers the age at which death is likely to occur.
“Research suggests that people, who start smoking in their teens and continue for two decades or more, will die 20 to 25 years earlier than those who never lit up. Young people who start smoking early in life will often find it difficult to quit smoking.”
Zimbabwe ratified the World Health Organisation’s convention on tobacco control last year in March.
The convention has strict guidelines on the control of tobacco such as banning tobacco use in public places and advertising of the products.