Why do children and young people try smoking?

It is estimated that around 15,000 young people between the ages of 13 to 24 in Scotland start to smoke each year. Children and young people might be drawn to smoking for any number of reasons- to look cool, act older, seem tough or feel independent.

What’s being done about it?

NHS Highland together with it`s partners has been focussing on doing all it can to encourage children and young people to choose not to smoke. Smoking rated for 13 and 15 year olds in Scotland are now at the lowest since reporting began in 1982. The smoking rates for the Highland Health Board area are similar to the national averageand whilst we welcome this progress, there is still much to be done. A range of smoking prevention activities have been delivered accross NHS Highland and include:

The smoke-Free Youth Newsletters

This resource was primarily designed to support teachers in their role to deliver effective tobacco prvention and education to children, young people and peer educators. The newsletter should also be relevant to multi-agency professionals who are making complementary contributions to the effective delivery of Curriculum for Excellence, health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes. The February and November 2010 issues of the newsletter have now been uploaded onto Highland GLOW for you to view as PDF files.

The tobacco Prevention & Education Road Show

During 2011-12 the Health Improvement Team at NHS Highland offered to deliver a Tobacco Prevention and Education Road Show to all secondary schools in the Highland Council. Out of 30 secondary schools, 22 schools took up the offer. The one day event was designed to discourage young people from starting to smoke and to equip teachers and agencies working with young people to increase their knowledge, confidence and understanding of tobacco issues.

Reducing the availability of Tobacco Products

Bearing in mind young people can only smoke if they are able to buy or otherwise get hold of cigarettes, measures to protect younf people from the impact of tobacco, through legislation and other forms of regulation/control are a vital part of the solution. It is for this reason that NHS Highland Health Improvement Team has been working with the Highland Council`s Trading Standards to try and restrict the sale of cigarettes, which cannot be sold to persons under the age of 18. This has included forwarding intellegence received regarding under-age sales activity to Trading Standards and the funding of a leaflet to assist in the recruitment of suitable, under-age volunteers for tobacco test purchasing exercises.

The Smoke free homes Challenge

In keeping with all other Health Boards in Scotland, NHS Highland has put togther a project to protect people from second hane smoke. Our’s is called the Smoke Free Homes Challenge. Since the project began in May 2010, we have had a total of 734 homes signing up to the project and 67 requests for free FREE Home Fire Safety Visits. We continue to focus our efforts with children and infants living in households in disadvantaged areas and welcome measures outlined in the Scottish Government’s Tobacco Control strategy which includes:

  1. Setting a target for achieving a substantial reduction in childrens exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) by 2020.
  2. Making advice on creating a smoke-free home a core feature of all ante and post-natal services as well as adoption, foster, kinship, and residential care services.
  3. Fully incorporating advice to reduce exposure to SHS in the range of services offered by Scotland`s public Health nurses, including the reintroduced 27 to 30 month review as set out in the parenting strategy.
  4. A national marketing campaign on the dangers of SHS in 2013.

Smoke-Free Homes Poster Competition

In 2010, pupils across Highland Primary schools helped to spread the word about the benefits of smoke-free living through a poster competition. Youngsters were asked to design a thought provoking poster to encourage families to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. The Judging panel had a difficult task of selecting the best designs, but were particularly impressed by the winning poster designed by Annie MacDonald from Staffin Primary School which was bright, attractive and completely captured the smoke-free message. You can view all the winning posters by visiting Highland GLOW – The Smoking Prevention and Education, Document Section.

Tobacco Curriculum Resource

We are now in the process of creating a tobacco curriculum resource (3-18 years) for educational and youth settings within Curriculum for Excellence. The vast majority of primary school pupils do not smoke. It`s therefore, the ideal time to introduce the issues and to encourage pupils to consider the remaining issuesand to encourage pupils to consider the benefits of remaining smoke-free in their future life. We know that smoking rates among school children increases with age. In light of this, prevention efforts would be most effective if they began in primary school and continued throughout the school `career`. Curriculum for Excellence provides a real opportunity for young people to develop the skills for life in a way which enhances their ability to make positive choices about their health and wellbeing; and that includes choosing not to smoke.

Can adults help children decide to be smoke-free?

While there is no sure way to prevent all children from experimenting with cigarettes, the good news is that parents and other adults play an important role in children and young people`s decisions about smoking. Children whose parents speak with them about smoking are much less likely to start. That`s especially true if a parent is a smoker. 

Why should adults talk to children about smoking?

Each year, tobacco use is associated with over 13,000 deaths (around a quarter of all deaths in Scotland every year) and 56,000 hospital admissions in Scotland. Most adult smokers begin smoking in their teenage years, and most wish they could quit. We know that the younger an individual starts to smoke, the more likely they are to be an adult smoker, the heavier they are likely to smoke during adulthood and the more likely they are to fall ill as a result of smoking. Young people don`t often realise how quickly a person can become `hooked` on smoking. Talking with them can help them gain confidence in their ability to make healthy, independent choices.

What can adults do to prevent children and young people from smoking?

  1. Keep your home and car smoke-free; children whose parents have made their home and car completely smoke-free are far less likely to start smoking themselves.
  2. Start a conversation; an item on the evening news, a film where a hero lights up, a family friend who quit-these can all be great opportunites to start a conversation. Start talking to children about smoking when they are five or six years old and continue through their secondary school years. Many children start smoking at age 11 and some are addicted by age 12. Try to keep the conversation relaxed by talking when you are side by side rather than face to face. Or by using open-ended questions to help turn a conversation into a discsussion rather than a lecture. e.g.”What would you say if one of your friends started smoking?”
  3. Discuss the downside of smoking; often children aren`t able to appreciate how their current behaviour will affect their future health. So talk about the immediate downsides to smoking: less money to spend, bad breath, yellow teeth, smelly hair etc. If your child is physically active and into sports, you could talk about the shortness of breath and the loss of endurance that tobacco causes. If you smoke yourself and regret starting, try explaining what it is about smoking that you dont like.
  4. Correct the myth that most young people smoke; many children try smoking because they think everyone else is doing it but the truth is most people (both young and old) do not smoke. It`s important to help them understand this. Try saying, “I read that most young people in Scotland don’t smoke regularly. What do you think?”
  5. Explain how hard it can be to quit; the longer that someone has been smoking, the more difficult they will find it to quit. The nicotine in cigarettes is an exteremely addictive drug. Once it enters the body it makes the body wnat more of it. Sometimes young people try to smoking a cigarette, just to see what it`s like, but then find it difficult to stop.
  6. Help children and young people practice refusal skills; the more often a child thinks (and plans) about how they would refuse a cigarette, the more likely they are not to smoke in the long term. Try asking questions such as “what could you say if someone offered you a cigarette and you didn’t want one?” Then get them to write down their response to different situations e.g. if offered a cigarette whilst out with a friend I will say “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” Repeat this exercise regularly throughout their school career.
  7. Help children to complete shool-based homework assignments; all schools deliver tobacco prevention activities as prt of the core curriculum. Sometimes a child will be asked to complete prevention activity at home. It might be a quiz or a survey, but whatever it is, this can be a great opportunity to start a conversation.