Today I took my kids to Kindergarten- a task that is usually my husband’s, but he had to rush off for a meeting. It’s a task I enjoy doing- once in a while. I like it because I see the other half of the families that I see in the afternoon – it looks like our routine of Daddy-drop-off and Mummy-pick-up (or vice-versa) is repeated all over the city.
However, today I didn’t enjoy it quite so much. I was a bit shocked actually. And then I was indignant. And now I’m writing about it.
Smoking. I couldn’t believe the number of parents (I’ll assume they were) walking along the street with their children, and smoking. One even with the baby in a sling- puffing away over her head, using her as an ash tray for all I know. Ok, for most of you smokers, this was the first trip out of the house today, and you are proud to say that you don’t smoke at home any more (probably not true). So this was the first chance you had to fill your lungs with the ‘good stuff’. You just couldn’t wait to get your little ones that 500 metres down the road to drop them off first, before lighting up. Really? Really??
I love Austria- with all its pros and cons and quirks. Dogs are allowed everywhere. Dog poo is allowed everywhere. But Austrians like order. It is hugely frowned upon for a pedestrian to cross the road on a red light. And the underground network of Vienna runs amazingly on time and is kept remarkably clean. But smoky air in cafes and restaurants has been widely tolerated for years. In playgrounds, parents and grandparents push swings with one hand and take a drag with the other. It’s a smoker’s paradise, but even die-hard smokers, when arriving in Austria, get a bit of a shock on seeing the clouds of blue haze filling bars and restaurants, long after the rest of western and central Europe stubbed out puffing in public places. Even Vienna’s General Hospital has a “Tabak” selling cigarettes (for less than €5) right in the entrance, and a cigarette vending machine outside for when the “Tabak” is closed. Come on! Have they really no clue here?!
Smoking is seen as a culture here. Forget the health implications.
Austria has one of the highest rates of smoking in Europe, particularly among young people: 33% of Austrians smoke regularly, according to a 2012 Eurobarometer study. Only Greeks, Bulgarians and Latvians smoke more (although the law in Latvia now classifies smoking in the vicinity of underage children as child abuse, and punished respectively).
How is it that even Russia has beaten Austria to the line? Starting next month, smoking in a private vehicle with a minor in the UK will be illegal. A few US states already have laws in place that prevent people from smoking in cars around children. Greece- the country with the highest rate of tobacco consumption (more than 40%) in the European Union- has managed to bring appropriate laws into place. The current Austrian law of a partial smoking ban was set up to fail- this is why the government has finally announced plans to introduce a total smoking ban in cafes and restaurants. By 2018. Hahaha.
As the organisation “Tobacco- free kids” warns us: “smoking can seriously harm kids while they are still young. Aside from the immediate bad breath, irritated eyes and throat and increased heartbeat and blood pressure, short-term harms from youth smoking include respiratory problems, reduced immune function, increased illness, tooth decay, gum disease and pre-cancerous gene mutations”.
So why do kids start smoking in the first place?
- Their parents are smokers.
- Peer pressure – their friends encourage them to try cigarettes, and to keep smoking.
- They see smoking as a way of rebelling and showing independence.
- They think that everyone else is smoking, and that they should, too.
- Tobacco advertising targets teenagers.
The majority of children in elementary school and the early part of middle school have never tried a cigarette. Most will tell you that they will never smoke cigarettes. But as they get older, some will become more open to the idea of smoking. Cigarette companies shape their advertising campaigns to portray smokers as cool, sexy, independent, fun, attractive, and living on the edge – images that are appealing to many teens. As a result, they try smoking and many get hooked. Only 5% of high-school-age smokers believe they’ll still be smoking 5 years after graduation but they don’t understand how difficult quitting can be. Research shows that after 8 years, 75% of those smokers will still be using some form of tobacco.
The best ways to prevent your children from smoking are to:
- Make, and abide by, strong rules that exclude smoking from your house.
- If you smoke, quit. It’s important to set a good example.
- If you do smoke, let your children know that you made a mistake by starting and will try to stop.
- Never smoke in front of children, offer them cigarettes, or leave cigarettes where they can find them.
- Encourage your children to get involved in activities that prohibit smoking, including sports.
- Keep talking to your children about the dangers of smoking. If friends or relatives have died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know.
- Ask your children what they find appealing — or unappealing — about smoking.
- Discuss ways to respond to peer pressure about smoking.
- Know if your kids’ friends use tobacco. Encourage your children to walk away from friends who don’t recognize or respect their reasons for not smoking.
Would any of this work in Austria? It’s as much educating the adults into not smoking, or at least not smoking in front of their children. Maybe if advertisements showed the harmful effects smoking has on your dog we would have more luck.