September 18, 2014 08:19
Smoking remains a significant problem among teenagers, despite some small reduction in the statistics.
The smoking rate among teenagers rose from 11.8 percent in 2005 to 13.3 percent in 2007 but fell to 9.7 percent last year, below 10 percent for the first time, according to government data.
But the rate among teenage boys was little changed from 2005 at 14.4 percent.
And another online survey in 2013 showed that among male high school seniors, the rate stood at a whopping 22.8 percent, much the same as the average among adult men (24.9 percent) in OECD member nations.
Lee Bok-geun at the Youth Anti-Smoking and Drinking Association points out that the government data was compiled using self-assessment, "and nobody in the school system trusts that data. The problem among teens is much more serious."
◆ Easy Availability
One 18-year-old high school senior has been smoking half a pack of cigarettes over the last four years. She said, "We dye our hair and wear makeup, so when we take off our school uniforms, nobody thinks we are still at school. I have no problem buying cigarettes in convenience stores."
One resident of Guri, Gyeonggi Province, just east of Seoul said, "After Gyeonggi Province recently delayed school opening hours to 9 a.m., youngsters are smoking on their way to school." People in the city put up fences and cement walls at alley entrances in order to stop teens from smoking there, but to no avail.
"About 70 or 80 students smoke in this alley on their way to school," the local complained.
Another said, "They come here to smoke after lunch and again at around 4 p.m. on their way home from school. The smell is awful."
◆ Lack of Awareness
Students say they attend anti-smoking classes, but the program consists of just a one-hour movie. One junior high school girl said, "If we get caught smoking, we just have to stand in the school hallway and hold up a sign that says 'no smoking.' I think our teachers have given up on us since so many of us smoke. All they do is tell us not to smoke in school or while we are wearing our uniforms."
At present, the Education Ministry recommends secondary schools provide at least one anti-smoking class annually and two a year for elementary children. But there is hardly any funding. The only government assistance is W1.05 billion (US$1=W1,036) given to an anti-smoking class being run on a trial basis at eight out of 17 education offices in the country.
The Health and Welfare Ministry spends just W2.36 billion or 0.12 percent of the W2 trillion national health promotion fund on teen anti-smoking campaigns.
◆ No Concrete Policies
When the government announced cigarette price hikes last month, it said a W500 increase in cigarette prices in 2004 resulted in a 25 percent drop in the teen smoking rate in just six months and that it expects the rate to drop significantly following a new W2,000 increase, while the overall smoking rate would decrease by eight percentage points.
But teens disagree. One high school student said, "I'll just cut down from two packs to one pack a day, but I don't really plan to quit. My friends feel the same way."
Lee at the Youth Anti-Smoking and Drinking Association said, "The government is only interested in raising cigarette prices, but more spending is required to develop and implement effective anti-smoking programs."
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