Survey shows most young people ignore warnings about tobacco.
URBINO, Italy — Resting in the mountains of the Marche Region this walled Renaissance town is often called the “Ideal City,” thanks to its masterpieces of architecture and art that attract tourists from the world over.
But visitors sometimes have a hard time seeing the beauty through the thick clouds of smoke rising from the cigarettes of young puffers.
They are everywhere.
A recent study conducted by regional anti-smoking groups found that 72.7 percent of residents between the ages of 14 through 18 have admitted to smoking at least once in their lives. Only 47 percent of U.S. youths in the same age tries smoking, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s sad, really -especially the girls,” said Dr. Giovanni Cappuccini, a physician and director Urbino’s Prevention Department, which is charged with trying to reduce and stop abuse of tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
“They get off the school bus and the first thing they do is light each other’s cigarettes.”
Sitting at his desk in front of a framed medical degree and a photo of his two smiling daughters, Dr. Cappuccini described the development of Italian smokers as a journey of two phases.
Phase one is simple: Teenagers smoke for acceptance.
Phase two is addiction. By the time a smoker comprehends the dangers of smoking, he or she is already addicted.
Laws against selling cigarettes to minors haven’t put a dent in the trend, Dr. Cappuccini said, because the minors face no penalties.
“If they are caught, it is the provider who is punished,” he said.
Dr. Cappuccini explained that anti-smoking campaigns in local schools have had little impact because teenagers don’t acknowledge the facts presented about the dangers of the habit.
That avoidance is on display any evening in the Piazza Repubblica, the city’s main gathering place. When young people get together to unwind with a beer or a glass of wine, they almost always have a cigarette as well.
As darkness descended on the piazza one June evening café tables flickered with the orange glow of cigarette lighters. Martino Ferrarelto, a university student, placed three pinches of Pueblo brand tobacco onto cigarette paper and gently rolled it up, licking the inside to secure the green-brown tobacco inside.
“It’s a ritual,” she said about rolling cigarettes. “It makes you appreciate your cigarette more.”
Her face caught a brief glow as she put a lighter to the tip of the newly created cigarette. As she exhaled the light gray smoke, Ferrarelto stowed her tobacco back in her purse without a single glance to the bold, black lettering of screaming warnings from the package: Il fumo uccide, – “Smoking kills.”
“Your doctor or physician can help you to quit smoking.”
“Proteggi I bambini: non fare loro respirare il tuo fumo,” – “Protect your children: do not let them breathe your smoke.”
Ferrarelto takes another drag.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” she said, pulling the bag out again. “I don’t think it ever mattered, I like to smoke.”
She supported Dr. Cappuccini’s assertion that smoking is a social function.
“I noticed that when I’m home alone, sometimes I even forget to smoke, I don’t feel the need,” she said. “But when I’m outside with my friends, I smoke much more.”
There is certainly a financial incentive the quit. A box of 20 cigarettes in Italy costs about four euros, or five U.S. dollars. The equipment needed for rolling your own supply to last about three weeks – filters, paper, and tobacco – costs about seven euros or $8.75 in U.S. dollars
Although smoking is one of the most common forms of socialization in this small Italian city, not all of the young people agree with the concept that a teenager has to smoke in order to be accepted by his or her peers.
“I do not like it that people smoke,” said Helen Brown, a young Italian student who has adopted an English name. “I do not like it because it is a choice that people make. They choose to smoke, even though they know it is unhealthy.”
Although some may agree with Brown, the small Italian city still has a big reputation for the number of young smokers. Any day or night at the Piazza Repubblica will provide proof to the idea that smoking is as social as one can get in this Ideal City.