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Girls and smoking

"Women are more likely to develop a nicotine addiction"
“Unfortunately, we have seen a very significant increase in tobacco consumption among girls aged 11 and 12 years old” - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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Ana is sitting on the sidewalk outside her home and she is smoking. The smoke she exhales forms feeble circles above her mouth. She is in her second year of junior high and she celebrates her 13th birthday with a family get together at home. Her mother observes her from the window and says that she prefers watching her daughter smoke with her friends at home rather than in other places where she surely would pair the cigarette with a beer. Ana belongs to the alarming figures in Mexico indicating girls are the most vulnerable group to smoke.

Guadalupe Ponciano Rodríguez, Coordinator of the Smoking Research and Prevention Program in the Faculty of Medicine of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México abbreviated UNAM), assures that teenagers aged 12 to 15 years have a high vulnerability for tobacco dependence and nicotine addiction, yet the specialist emphasizes that within this group women stand out: "Unfortunately, we have seen a very significant increase in tobacco consumption among girls aged 11 and 12 years old who are already starting to smoke."

Ponciano Rodríguez says that vulnerability in this group in particular is due to many aspects, such as physiological issues. "Women, compared to men, are more likely to develop a nicotine addiction," she says, adding that such an early exposure can negatively impact brain development and have big implications for future tobacco use and smoking-related harms.

Ponciano Rodríguez explains that even the natural structure of a woman's body also makes her more susceptible to respiratory diseases associated with tobacco use and she emphasizes that in general women are twice as likely to develop any type of cancer. "In tobacco smoke, there are around 60 substances that cause cancer, thus, several types of cancer that are a public health problem in our country are associated with tobacco consumption."

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths. The latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on the global tobacco epidemic reveals that despite the increase in the number of countries that have implemented tobacco control policies, from graphic warnings on packages and advertising bans to smoking prohibition in indoor areas, tobacco addiction remains. Namely, in Mexico, there are specific instruments such as the National Survey of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption (Encuesta Nacional de Consumo de Drogas, Alcohol y Tabaco abbreviated Encodat) and the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (Encuesta Global de Tabaquismo en Adultos abbreviated GATS) that offer a comprehensive epidemiological panorama.

Moreover, Mexico became part of the global community that signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) on February 27, 2005, implementing smoke-free places, regulating tobacco advertising, promotion, sponsorship, packaging, and labeling, among a series of changes in tobacco control legislation in the country.

However, for Ponciano Rodríguez there is still a lot to do in the country in this area since in Mexico tobacco use differs from those of the rest of the world. Tobacco use is linked to sectors with less purchasing power or cultural preparation throughout the world, yet in Mexico, it comprises all sectors.


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