by Tamara Rodney
Young people were warned of the dangers of the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products at a Wellness Week activity under the theme “Smoking kills: Pass the tobacco law”.
The event was facilitated by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education.
Guyana joined the world in the fight against tobacco use in September 2005 by endorsing the Word Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. While efforts were made to protect the population against second hand smoke at health care facilities and educational premises, experts said there is a need to regulate smoking in many other public spaces, including buses and public offices.
Among the key speakers were Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton and Junior Minister of Health Dr. Karen Cummings. Both indicated that their Ministry is focused on tobacco control and advocate for more smoke free environments to promote good health and clean air especially for youths. “A rigorous public health communications programme will take effect, highlighting the risks of NCDs (non communicable diseases), that is geared to educate all Guyanese, beginning with our children in our schools will be established”, said Minister Cummings.
PAHO’s country representative, Dr. William Adu- Krow said, “In Guyana about 50 % of our population are smokers. The Global Youth Survey shows that 21 % of that number are students between ages 13- 15”. He also indicated that 30 % of the homes in Guyana have smokers and that the aim of Thursday’s session was to give the students information so that they can then share with their parents. The affordability of cigarettes and other tobacco products is perhaps one of the main reasons so many young people smoke. “We need to raise the taxes on these products, in that way the money can go towards building parks, playgrounds and better environments”, proposed Dr. Adu- Krow. The increase in taxes on these products resulted in the reduction of smoking in a number of WHO member states, he added.
Smoking is the sixth leading cause of death in the world, although it can be prevented. It is linked to several illnesses including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung illnesses among others. A significant number of young people are smokers worldwide. In fact, most current smokers started this habit before age 20, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In Guyana, youths make up 20.9% of the country’s smokers as shown in a Tobacco Use Report (WHO), 2008- 2010.
Dramatic presentations by the Theatre Company, including “Something had to kill me”, “At your own risk” and “Dem Boys”, delivered the messages on the risk of smoking with humor and drama.