SHANGHAI – Almost one in four students aged between 12 and 14 have tried smoking, according to the results of a survey released by the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC).
The survey, carried out among 38,839 students and 6,503 teachers from middle and high schools in 11 provinces across the country between May and June, showed that 22.5 percent of students aged between 12 and 14 had tried smoking and that 15.8 percent of middle and high school students smoke regularly.
“There are definitely quite a number of boy students in my class who smoke regularly as some have been found smoking outside campus during lunch break,” said Li Xiaolan, an English teacher from a high school in Shanghai.
The survey also found that 39 percent of students took their first cigarette from their classmates.
“It was quite common to smoke with my classmates at school and we usually smoked in toilets or in corners of the playground after lunch,” said Zhou Guangrong, a 22-year-old university student from Guiyang, Guizhou province, who started smoking when he was 12.
The majority of student smokers buy cigarettes themselves and about 76 percent of the adolescent smokers said that there is at least one cigarette shop within 200 meters from their school.
“When I was a student at middle and high schools, they were surrounded by cigarette shops,” said Zhou who used to smoke two cigarettes per day in primary school and two packs per week in middle and high school.
“We’re keen to show that more adolescents are starting smoking much younger than before, and that we need to minimize the number of young smokers,” said Duan Jiali, secretary-general of the youth tobacco control commission under CATC.
Duan added that teachers and parents should set a good example for teenagers by not smoking in front of them at school or at home, which is the most influential way of stopping adolescents from smoking.
China banned smoking in 16 types of public indoor venues – including hospitals, schools, bars, restaurants and hotels – on May 1 in an attempt to curb tobacco use in the country with the world’s largest number of smokers.
Currently, there are more than 300 million smokers in China, and about 1.2 million people die from smoking-related diseases every year, accounting for one-fifth of the world’s total, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
“Meanwhile, about 540 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke, 48.9 percent of which are adolescents (from 15 to 19 years old),” said Xu Guihua, deputy director of the CATC.
“It’s essential and urgent for us to control the number of adult smokers who potentially tempt adolescents to smoke.”