Smoking is the single biggest avoidable health risk. The facts are undeniable and can be seen in gruesome detail plastered over the now familiar cigarette boxes with the message “smoking kills.” Such campaigns have been largely successful in reducing cigarette usage, with a recent study at the University of Bergen showing that, in general, the number of people smoking has reduced significantly across Europe in the last forty years.
There is, however, one demographic that denies this trend and, most worryingly, it is those who have the most to lose from smoking: the young adolescent group of 11 to 15-year-olds. The numbers of smokers in this group have risen steadily in the past 40 years and have seen that growth increase even more in the last 10, which raises the question about how successful the anti-smoking campaigns are at deterring new smokers.
Their harsh message may be striking and makes it painstakingly obvious how smoking can have a negative effect upon one’s health, but while such statistics may deter the majority, they are also at risk of creating a forbidden fruit that tempts teenagers.
This is because the age group in question is renowned for trying to find ways to broaden their independence. By creating a stigma around smoking, albeit a necessary one, it becomes a prime act of rebellion.
This is not a new phenomenon, however, the increased negative propaganda may entice adolescents, who are determined to show that they know better than their parents’ generation does.
It is also a problem that the gory photographs that are commonplace on cigarette boxes often feature older patients, in whom the effects of smoking are more developed, making it an abstract and far away concept. The world in which they are socialising presents smoking in a very different manner because they see very few of their friends suffering from the adverse effects of smoking.
Many young people are encouraged to take up smoking because it is seen to be a cool act in which to rebel against their parents. Their brazen, youthful attitude believes that they are unlikely to suffer any ill-consequences as long as they only dabble with smoking. It is this approach that has led to many young people labelling themselves ‘social smokers’ or stating that they will give up after university.
Such an attitude ignores the horrible facts behind smoking, especially that smoking is most addictive in young users because the nicotine has a stronger effect on adolescents. This means that it becomes increasingly difficult for young smokers to give up and their ‘social smoking’ can easily develop into a lifelong addiction.
There is also an ignorance of the long-term health problems that even the shortest stint of smoking can cause. The study at the University of Bergen suggested that those taking up smoking before the age of 15 increase the chance of their future offspring developing asthma, showing that smoking at a young age may not only have adverse effects on an individual later in life but also their family.
While the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) ‘smoking kills’ advertising campaign has been largely successful in reducing the number of smokers, it is now time for them to focus their campaign on the younger generations. Failure to do so risks a continuing increase in young smokers, who, with their whole life ahead of them, have the most to lose from smoking’s negative health effects.
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