Youth tobacco survey: we need to learn more, and act

Statistics are pliable. This is Mark Twain. The man wasn’t entirely wrong although some are wont to believing that all statistics have outliers. Benjamin Disraeli, the first Earl of Beaconsfield, went to the extent of saying: “There are three types of lies—lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

The Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2019 is out. There are numbers and highlights but we are not surprised. The report claims that the survey, conducted in 2019, followed a global standardised methodology. Whatever this is supposed to mean in the language of statisticians, and also politicians, we think the numbers fail to paint the real picture.

The report’s recommendations are strikingly true and familiar, though. And also largely lacking. Loopholes in the laws and implementation failures have given rise to tobacco use/abuse among Bhutanese youth. Go to the drayangs, bars and discotheques, one is certain to come across children as young as 12 smoking, or worse, drugging themselves hard.

Is the availability of tobacco products the problem? Cessation services have been very poor in Bhutan. This must improve. Unless we take a drastic action, nothing significant is going to happen. What this indicates is that our lawmakers are failing to get at the root of the nation’s problem.

Cut it all. We do not grow tobacco. We cannot, by law. If our people can be punished for cutting down a tree from a community forest, why should our people be allowed to import tobacco products? And that too for trade? Our laws do not make any sense and senseless laws will only brew more problems.

Schools can only do so much. What the report doesn’t even mention is the role that parents could play. And the many advocacy programmes have failed. If 65 percent of our youth have seen and are aware of media messages about the ills of using or abusing tobacco products, why is tobacco use growing among our younger population?

That the report doesn’t say much by way of findings is one thing. Its recommendations leave a lot to be desired. Tobacco use among the young Bhutanese population is growing and as the report points out is “worrisome”, but the report doesn’t go beyond recommending renewed efforts to communicate tobacco health risks among youth and to promote multi-stakeholder approach for effective tobacco control governance in the country.

We knew this, even without such a report. Our statistics are often pliable and so there are outliers. What ought we to make of them?

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