Cigarettes’ dangerous successor arrives

Cigarettes’ dangerous successor arrives

Isaiah Schmidt, Sports Editor

Looking back, it seems like a mystery that cigarettes were so popular in the past century. Now we have with a generation of teens raised with an awareness of horrible effects and dangers of cigarettes. Fortunately, cigarettes are growing less and less popular. However, another addiction is taking their place. And it isn’t vaping.

Comparing screens and social media with tobacco may seem to be a folly endeavor. After all, one causes lung cancer, and the other does not. Cigarettes result in considerable litter, while most people probably don’t throw their phones away after each use. But despite their differences, there are some eerie similarities.

Can phones kill people? It sounds like a ridiculous question. Nevertheless, there is a correlation between higher suicide rates and landmark dates for developments of smartphones and social media. Public Broadcasting Service published a graph that shows the number of suicides among 15- to 19-year-olds. From 2000 to 2007, the suicide rate decreased steadily. However, from 2008 to 2017, the frequency of suicides rose — slowly at first but then more steeply.

The article, by PBS News Hour, states that in 2017, there were 47% more suicides among people aged 15 to 19 than in the year 2000. And the Los Angeles Times reported that suicide rates nearly doubled since 2000 for girls and young women.

What happened in 2007 that may have provoked this increase? On June 29, 2007, Apple released the first iPhone.

What happened in the years when the suicide rates grew more and more sharply? Snapchat and Instagram, the two most popular social media apps for teens in the U.S., became more and more prevalent among teens and young adults.

This correlation is not a concrete foundation for assuming that screens and social media are the direct cause of increasing suicide rates. They may be only coincidences.

But the National Institute of Health did a study of over 40,000 children ages 2 to 17 to find out what effect screens might have on brain development. Of those in the 14- to 17-year-old age range, people labeled “high users of screens” had more than double the rates of anxiety and depression as compared to “low users.”

The leading cause of suicide is mental illness. The leading mental illness that causes suicide is depression. And members of the high-use group in this study were on medication for psychological or behavioral issues more than twice as much as those who used screens less.

Granted, lung cancer seems to have a more pronounced effect on the body than depression. However, consider how long it took for research to expose the real dangers of cigarettes before the information was actually circulated and began to curb cigarette use. Screens already seem to have such an effect on youth, and that’s likely to carry on with the constant flood of new smartphones in the market.

So what’s next? At best, all of this will blow over, the suicide rates will drop, and everybody will find out that the correlelations between mental illness and prolonged screen use were menial.

But for anyone who is already managing life with anxiety or depression, they might be wary of spending hours scrolling their phones.