While certain segments of the population are pushing for the decriminalization of certin amounts of marijuana, Belize’s health authorities are turning their attention today to the problem of an already legal drug, tobacco. According to the most recent international survey on drug use, some 12.3% of Belizean youth aged 12-15 have taken up tobacco smoking, and about 6.5% have smoked an electronic cigarette, a new trend in that area. But either way, the effects of tobacco are well known. So then, knowing this, why are Belizeans taking up and continuing to smoke? The Ministry of Health and National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC) say it is tied to issues of culture, particularly peer pressure. We spoke to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)’s focal point on non-communicable diseases, Dr. Jorge Polanco at the NDACC community fair held to mark World No Tobacco Day.
“The illicit trade of tobacco puts the product out in the market more accessibly, it’s cheaper, more accessible and they would tend to consume it. This strategy to address the illicit trade is just one of many global strategies of the World Health Organizations to assist countries in reducing the consumption of tobacco. But the World No Tobacco Day is also the opportunity to promote awareness to the entire population of being aware of the risks and to do something, which is basically to stop smoking. There may be different approaches to assist adults or young adults in smoking which includes tobacco sensation therapy and in Belize we have three councilors across the country, that know how to counsel young people to begin thinking that in reality smoking is extremely serious to their health and that the best thing is for them to stop smoking.”
The survey will be officially released in June, and NDACC, says its director Esner Vellos, will be more proactive in addressing youth and tobacco issues.
“W e know for a fact, based on the Global Youth Tobacco Survey of 2014, that the younger people are starting to consume tobacco at a younger age. That rings a bell to us. That means that our prevention programs in the schools, our prevention programs in our communities have to be strengthened where by tobacco will need to be card to be part of our whole national strategy in the consumption of drugs. Weather it may be licit or illicit drugs. That is one avenue that we are working on. We are also working towards making sure that w will be able to provide and develop workers that are evidence based, meaning that if tobacco is an issue in a specific district or in a specific municipality, then our efforts would be invested not only financially, but in terms of human resources to be able to address that issue in those specific areas.. More than that, we are also looking at addressing the issue of lack of association of programs. How do we invite individuals and how do we make individuals stop consuming tobacco programs. ”
Tobacco has many chemicals which are harmful and compounded effects of smoking over time include cancers, emphysema, and ultimately death if not stopped. The celebration was moved up from the usual date of May 31 due to its placement on the weekend.