What is needed to create a tobacco-free world?

Abstracts from the latest conference of the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (ISPTID) were published in a supplement for Tobacco Induced Diseases last Friday. The key message of the conference? Education is vital in preventing children and teenagers from becoming the next generation of smokers.

Child with cigarette
Education is key to preventing a new generation from taking up smoking. Image credit: Finn Mac Ginty/Flickr

Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death and disability on the planet, and potentially responsible for more than one billion deaths this century. So say Professor Alan D. Lopez and Sir Richard Peto in their book Tobacco and Public Health: Science and Policy.

At the 11th Annual ISPTID conference, over 250 participants from a variety of disciplines came together to discuss the key issues surrounding the prevention of tobacco-related diseases and working towards a tobacco-free world. Everything was up for discussion, from e-cigarettes to  disease epidemiology, from occupational health to smoking cessation. The new supplement released in Tobacco Induced Diseases offers a plethora of abstracts covering the huge range of topics discussed.

Even with this variety, it seems a clear message has emerged from the conference – education is a vital tool in helping us to prevent more children and teenagers from taking up smoking.

Education for a tobacco free future

We all know that our teens are some of our formative years. It’s usually during this time that people will try their first cigarettes, something that could lead them to become a regular smoker. Community or school-based programs that encourage teenagers not to follow this path were a key focus for discussion at the conference.

High school students participating in a smoking prevention study developed by A. A. Kousoulis  used Facebook to interact with healthcare professionals in smoking cessation classes and post their take-home message on Facebook. The take up was strong and the messages posted by 32 students reached 20,095 cumulative friends showing that social media tools can provide a useful new way to reach out to young people, a typically hard to reach and vulnerable population.

Tobacco leaves
A deadly beauty – tobacco leaves drying in Cuba.

Another study carried out by G.M. Pantsidis et al. found that some medical school curricula were not  adequately teaching the risks of smoking. For example, 31% of study participants (all medical students)  believed that slim, light and hand-rolled cigarettes were less harmful than other cigarettes and only 8% of students  had been taught cessation techniques.

Clearly, it is critical that medical students, our future physicians, are comprehensively taught the risks of smoking, as they will be the ones who go on to occupy leading strategic roles in tobacco cessation and prevention efforts that need to benefit our whole society.

Participants at the conference even got to see some student engagement in action. The meeting was part of the 4th PanHellenic Tobacco Control Congress in Athens, Greece. In the lead up to this students around the country submitted more than a thousand drawings, works of art, and short videos as part of the national campaign for a tobacco free future, the best of which were awarded prizes as part of the closing ceremony.

So, the conference’s take-home message is clear and simple: reaching out to young people is vital, and education, whether peer to peer, through the community, or in schools is an integral part of preventing tobacco induced diseases. There’s no doubt that people at the conference believed that a tobacco free future is possible, and education can pave the way.

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