A recent study by Baylor College of Medicine showed some surprising results on current teenagers' attitudes about smoking and drinking.
The majority of teens who were interviewed - seventh- and ninth-graders in the Houston area - said they think smoking is no longer cool. And that's good news for thousands of teens who may spare themselves the myriad negative health effects related to tobacco use.The poll results indicate that school campaigns to alert youngsters to the hazards of smoking are working. Only two of the 70 adolescents polled by Baylor researchers said they expected to be smokers as adults.
Not such good news is an attitude that drinking alcoholic beverages is acceptable - even desirable - behavior.
Seventy percent of those interviewed said they likely would drink as adults.
These young people equated drinking with a good time - camping and outings on the beach, etc. - and they made no distinction between drinking and getting drunk, the researchers reported.
The teenagers showed some concern for the consequences of drinking and driving but seemed oblivious of other potentially negative effects of consuming alcohol, including addiction and its devastating effects on families and social institutions.
They apparently are not aware of the enormous costs of alcohol treatment and rehabilitation, of the time lost to American business and industry, the uncounted costs of family disruption and pain.
These teenagers appear willing to swap lung damage for liver and brain damage.
The role of television in generating attitudes was noted by the Texas researchers.
While smoking has become a "bad-guy" activity in most modern television shows, drinking is associated with the "good folks."
In one hourlong show of prime-time television, the Baylor scientists said, an average of 11 incidences of drinking were shown.
There's a lesson to be learned here. When health officials began a concerted push for bans on tobacco advertising on television and requirements for warning labels on tobacco products, smoking started to decline. The image of smoking has changed considerably in this country. Fewer adolescents are picking up the habit, to their own benefit.
Those who don't are developing a pool of positive peer pressure that in time may make smoking as uncool today as it was cool in earlier eras.
While the anti-tobacco campaign shouldn't diminish as long as children still are tempted to use such detrimental products, perhaps educators and health promoters now need to apply the same kind of pressure to the alcohol industry.
Identifying alcohol - properly - as a drug, might help some young people to identify it with other harmful drugs, instead of as a socially acceptable tradition.
All of the warning labels tacked to tobacco products - the potential for addiction, prospects for cancer and other life-threatening diseases and the damage to unborn babies - could be applied to alcohol products as well. As the adoptive mother of a child handicapped for life by fetal alcohol syndrome, I see a great need for education against those hazards.