Friday, January 22, 2010

Just say no

I'm not a nurse (yet) but I am a journalist (or was), so please allow me to use a definition to explain this appalling situation..

Irony is defined as an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

Irony is watching forty percent of a class filled with CNAs or pre-nursing students take a smoke break. 40 percent! Two-fifths! Seriously.

We had one break in my anatomy and physiology class, which runs from 5:30 to 9. At that break, forty percent of the students stopped for a cigarette.

Why in the world would you willingly be smoking in today's world? Hello! It's called a cancer-stick for a reason! The message that smoking-is-bad has been drilled into all of our heads. We see it on TV, billboards, read it in newspapers, magazines, hear it on the radio, in classes. You cannot be an adult, English-speaking American and NOT know that smoking is bad for your health. So why are these young adults still puffing away on their Marlboros?

(This is where I take a step back from my shock and pull from the many textbooks I've been reading lately.)

I'm sure it's part of the generational forgetting, the theory that you cannot learn from your parents mistakes and instead repeat the same mistakes previous generations did. And there is probably quite a bit of the invincibility fable in there, the idea that (most) teenagers believe that it can't happen to them, that they cannot be hurt, and that they will live forever. Maybe it's part of the sunk cost fallacy? "I've already been smoking for x years, so I probably already have cancer. Why stop now?"

I understand that it is an addiction, but why was the addiction started? These smokers were all in their late teens or early twenties, so they most likely started smoking as teenagers. One theory states that in households where parents or grandparents smoke, adolescents begin smoking to appear more mature, more like their adult counterparts. Another says peer pressure, that friends pressure them into trying it. A third considers low self-esteem, that by smoking, teens can find a peer group and feel like they fit in. Another idea states that kids try it once, thinking that they are stronger than any addictive factors and are cocky enough to believe that they can stop at any time...until they can't stop.

Why do I care? It's not about the secondhand smoke issue. (I'm one of the few (or one of the silent majority) that is against a statewide smoking ban. I think we have enough laws infringing on our freedoms, on our decision-making ability. I think an individual can make a personal decision whether to go into a smokey restaurant or whether to work in a smokey bar or casino. I think the government needs to draw a line somewhere, a line where they stop trying to parent everyone, "nanny-government" at it's worst. I worry that if we don't draw the line soon, we will have government officials telling us what we can eat, drink, and do...and at that point, I believe we become a communist country. I see that as bad. But, I digress.)

I care because my mom smoked; because many of my aunts and uncles smoked, struggled with alcoholism and/or drug addiction; because addictive tendencies run on both sides of my gene pool; and because I have four daughters. I do not want to ever see them step outside for a quick cig. Ever. I believe it is my husband's and my responsibility to ingrain in them that smoking is evil. I want to identify what risk factors cause people to start smoking, and then do all I can to eliminate those risk factors from their lives.

Going back to the textbooks, one specific chapter focused on teenager behavior. It discussed that the limbic system, which drives emotional impulses, matures before the prefrontal cortex, which drives emotional regulation. In other words, teenagers brains are running into overdrive with inadequate braking. They act before they think. Now, anyone who has ever been a teenager knows this is a fact; at least, it was for me. So, based on the developmental process, I probably can't count on my girls' cognitive skills to help them make the smart decisions when in a peer pressure situation.

So, I have a theory. Make it a habit. If we can make it a habit for them to say no when offered a cigarette, chew (don't ask.), alcohol, or drugs, make it so as soon as they hear "do you want one?" that the words "no thanks" comes flying out before they have time to activate that prefrontal cortex, then maybe just maybe we can get them to adulthood on a little easier, safer path than their (ahem) mother took? Maybe it would enable them to get to adulthood without those lifelong addictions? And maybe, just maybe, they won't be running outside for a smoke break between classes.

Life throws enough risks, challenges, hardships on us. Why generate new ones by making poor decisions?

And for goodness sake, if you are in the healthcare industry, practice what you preach. Live what you learn.

1 comment:

Carpenter's said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this comment!! "And for goodness sake, if you are in the healthcare industry, practice what you preach. Live what you learn."

However as an asthmatic I wish it would be against the law in public places! What is worse than taking your children to enjoy time at say a ZOO when I have to puff on my inhaler b/c we have a cloud of smoke ahead of us! It affects the lives of Sooooo many!

Oh and I am glad to know you are a blogger, I have always found what you said interesting (in a good way :)!!

I will be back for more! Have a good week!