Smoking – the new form of self-expression for teenage girls in Iraq?

Nida Asha writes for

Nida Asha writes for

Nidal Asha is a journalist and lawyer. Based in Iraq she supports several NGOs with her expertise. She explores the increasing fascination with smoking for girls in Iraq.

Smoking of all sorts has recently spread among young girls, especially middle and secondary school students. In fact, the incidence of smoking in young women in general has increased to such a degree Iraq that it seems there is no place that is free from this unpleasant phenomenon! What was once barely socially acceptable has moved into something to been shown off and applauded. I’d like to consider why this is occurring and what can be done about it.

I believe that the emergence of this phenomenon in recent years is due to social triggers linked to the difficult circumstances in Iraq. We have for example seen much movement of people across borders. Our young people are blending with those from other communities where smoking of different sorts is wide-spread, this familiarity encourages and condones.

It has also been suggested that smoking is a way for young women to take a bit of control over their identity, to feel empowered. Certainly some girls see smoking as achieving a kind of equality. In conversation they speak of it as a ‘competition’, something they can do in the same way as young men can also. Others suggest that on one hand, smoking is also a way of rebelling against values and customs and on the other, it provides a link to famous female artists and political or social figures they aspire to – a bit of star-dust in essence.

Satellite channels and the internet have also turned smoking into something that is good to do. But the fact that parents seem to be unable to say ‘no’ these days allows this technology-driven globalization even further into the family home.

So often I see teens being given absolute trust and freedom without any restrictions or advice on how to properly practice it. I’ve even seen parents encouraging their children to smoke hookah at cafes, restaurants and clubs. Rather than seeing the health problems that are being stored for the future some parents see this to be a civilized and modern act; a symbol of a world they would like their children to participate in. Others, because they are too busily trying to earn their own income or just dealing with life, are simply too busy to notice what their children are up to. Whatever the reason, lack of parental support and proper supervision of a healthy lifestyle is proving  to be very damaging to a whole generation of young women.

Iraq is not alone. Smoking is on the increase across the region. In Oman, it was reported that 1.5 to 27% of 13 to 16 year olds currently smoked hookas while in Lebanon, around 35% of Lebanese adolescents smoke them. In Jordan, the estimated prevalence of having ever smoked any form of tobacco among adolescents was 18% in 1999, 13% in 2004, 16% in 2007 and 26% in 2009.(Statistics from a PMC 2013 report). However in other parts of the world smoking rates are it is declining; in the UK for example the HSCIC reported the lowest rates of smoking in young people in 10 years. These statistics do link to my theory that the instability of our region is in part a trigger factor.

So what are the effects? Well health issues are well documented. You may be interested to know though, that other than the typical cancers associated with smoothing there are further considerations for women. For example specialists have reported that smoking can lead to problems with fertility in women, causing infertility or delayed conception. Of course during pregnancy, smoking can cause birth defects and reduce a baby’s immunity against diseases.

It is worth remembering though that for the younger age group  looks are important. So using messaging around how smoking hooka and cigarettes can affect looks and femininity is also worth considering.

Just a suggestion:

“ Dear girls smokers…. Femininity provides you with a beautiful bright look on your face, which will soon fade away among the clouds of smoke and toxins, affecting the color of your lips and brightness of your face, and with time your skin will turn pale and wrinkled at an early age.”

Pointing out that young men don’t necessarily like girls who smoke is also a good weapon as it referencing that as result of the undesirable odor of smoke on their bodies and clothes, female smokers tend to be avoided by their school colleagues and community.

On a more serious note, how can smoking among young women be combated? Awareness is key. However strong positive role modelling, by mothers for example is also important. Mothers should get closer to their daughters, listen to their problems in order to solve them before they aggravate and turn into larger issues which lead girls to the brink, and act as safety valves in order to protect their daughters from external effects.

Educational institutions and civil organizations should also play an important role in spreading awareness about smoking dangers and eradication. Whilst government institutions can play their part by issuing and then enforcing laws that ban smoking in public areas – a measure that has been used to great effect in many other countries.


Teenage Smoking Iraq

So some tips to kick the habit:

  • Replace smoking with something useful for you – or for others.
  • Try to fill your time with physical activities which will help you regain skin freshness and physical energy.
  • Enjoy yourself doing things with friends who are good role models
  • Occupy yourself with reading various kinds of books and stories. Perform activities that generate profit and benefit.
  • Dedicate your efforts towards work( school or other) so you can gain self-confidence and discover who you really are
  • Don’t try to copy the negative practices of others, but rather find positive ones that suit your personality
  • Don’t use smoking as an escape route for negative physical conditions or  psychological factors

We women need to stay healthy. We are half of the society. So to finish off my personal message to young female smokers

“ You are essential to developing and building a better Iraq, so be healthy, be there and be aware! “


See Arabic post here: http://نينا-العراق.com/2014/10/07/ظاهرة-تدخين-الفتيات/

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