The public campaigns against smoking have worked on teens. However, I should qualify that statement: although teen cigarette smoking has been declining for years, more teens are now smoking cigars than ever before, according to an article by Kathleen Doheny in HealthDay. This troubling information can be useful not only in formulating new prevention efforts, but also in uncovering weaknesses in existing prevention campaigns.
The article from HealthDay offers several interesting tidbits about teen tobacco consumption habits. Doheny asserts that although cigarette smoking is now seen as “stinky, smelly and a hazard to your health,” teens think “that cigars look fashionable.” Because they are associated with success and celebration — politicians, executives, and even fathers of new babies all smoke cigars — they seem chic and grown up. Furthermore, although states have increased taxes on cigarettes (which, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is something youth respond to), Doheny cites research that says most states have not raised taxes on cigars. Thus, cigars have a price advantage and deliver what cigarettes once did: a sign of growing up.
We must counter this trend. Tobacco products are dangerous and addictive; according to the National Institutes of Health, “cigar smoking causes a variety of cancers” and “[d]aily cigar smoking, particular among those who inhale, also causes an increased risk for coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease.” Prevention needs to start at home and surprisingly, Doheny’s article suggests that “[d]welling on the long-term risk of cancer … is not usually effective,” and that instead parents should focus on what campaigns have said about cigarettes —tobacco generally is not sophisticated, but is instead smelly and unsexy. Parents can also deal with cigar smoking the way NCPC suggests they deal with other drug problems—by being role models and setting their expectations clearly for their children. Few forces are more effective than a statement by a parent about what is acceptable and what is disappointing.
In a larger sense, the emergence of this problem shows prevention practitioners some interesting things about prevention campaigns. There are many substitutes for risky behaviors available to teens. We must be careful when constructing campaigns to be specific enough to be effective but general enough not to push youth from one bad habit to another. This is a difficult problem, and I’d be interested to see suggestions and comments.
Hat Tip to the always excellent blog Corrections Sentencing.