Preventing Teenage Smoking

Last year, 18.7 percent of high school seniors were smokers. As the number of students who are obese approaches the same percentage, it is increasingly pushing smoking out of the way as the health concern of the moment.

“But it may be even more important to attack teenage smoking than obesity. Fighting obesity is a lifelong battle. But for smoking, adolescence is Armageddon. Only 1 in 10 smokers starts after the age of 18. After the teenage years, the battle is lost.”

Health messages are generally good at getting adults to quit smoking but they are less effective at keeping teenagers from starting the habit in the first place.

For them, a cigarette is not a delivery system for nicotine. It’s a delivery system for rebellion. Kids take up smoking to be cool, to impress their friends with their recklessness and defiance of adults. Teenagers don’t care about lung cancer — they’re immortal. They know that smoking is dangerous. In fact, they overestimate the chances of getting lung cancer. Danger is part of a cigarette’s appeal.

Since 1997, we’ve learned a lot about how to prevent teenage smoking. The best strategy? Make smoking uncool.

One trick?

“We never said ‘don’t smoke,’” said Perez, who was later hired to run SWAT. “We got a bunch of kids together to make a statement to the tobacco industry — to rebel against them.”

The article also mentions keeping cigarettes out of movies and generic packaging.

This year in Australia they are implementing “a generic olive-green (package), with big health warnings and the brand name written in small, standardized lettering. For teenagers, who are intensely brand-conscious, plain packs will certainly take some of the allure out of smoking.”

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