Study says curiosity leads youth to smoke

Youngsters don't start smoking because they think it's cool. They take their first drag out of sheer curiosity, reveals a new study conducted by the Roy Castle Foundation. 82 per cent of smokers pick up the habit before the age of 18, according to the Liverpool Longitudinal Smoking Study. Some youngsters start puffing away as an act of rebellion; others take to it to attract friends and a few do it just to kill time.

Young smokers in the city back up these findings. "I started smoking when I was 17," says Karen Thomas, a software professional at IBM. "There was no particular reason why I started. I was just curious. Then it became a habit to the extent that I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day," says Karen, who is now down to less than 10 a day.

Kshitij Jain, a student at Wesley Degree College, stole his first fag from his dad, who is a smoker. "I tried it when I was 11, but it wasn't a regular occurrence until I turned 19," he says. "I smoke six-seven cigarettes a day and it's not possible for me to stop now. Especially when I go to play snooker and everyone is smoking, I can't resist it," he explains.

The obvious reason to quit would be health effects, but even that's not so easy. Says Karen, "I have cut down a lot 'coz my health is suffering, but I end up smoking when I go clubbing."

Maybe images of diseased lungs on cigarette packets will help, feels Kshitij. "I went to Malaysia recently and saw the awful graphics on the cigarette packs there. That's really got me trying to quit," he says. But most youngsters are well aware of the damage that cigarettes can cause yet find it difficult to give up smoking. "We all know that cigarettes are injurious to health," says Jatin Narang, a student of Icfai. "And they say it causes impotency, but none of my friends have become impotent after smoking," adds Jatin, who started smoking at 17. "One of my friends offered me my first ciggie, but there's no peer pressure. I just smoke when I feel like it," is his story.

However, consultant psychologist and hypnotherapist Srikanth Acharya, of KIMS Hospital, gives us a more helpful explanation. "Youngsters start smoking for various reasons. It could be stress from academics, parents' expectations, some unresolved conflict or even plain boredom. Smoking is also a way of showing that they can make their own choices; they're mature and need advice from nobody," says Acharya. "But whatever the reason, anyone can kick the habit with some systematic steps in behavior modification. Identify the problem. Are you smoking because of some inadequacy - no girlfriend, no bike or laptop? Figure out when you tend to light up and avoid going to your favorite cigarette shop. Stay away from things which tempt you to smoke and make changes in your smoking pattern. If you usually do it with your right hand, shift to the left. If you like to stand and puff away, try it sitting down. Break the pattern and follow the changes for 21 days continuously. If it doesn't help, get professional counseling," he says.

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