The issue of smoking is widely discussed and there are thousands of provisions, help-lines and the NHS have spent billions of pounds on treatment of smoking related illness and helping those who smoke quit.
The question remains as to whether we can actually prevent people from smoking?
As with so many other things in the social and health education sector, I believe it has to do with the way in which it is approached in classroom discussions. For many years, particularly when I was at school, smoking was a ‘cool’ thing to do, a rebellious act that would leave one both exhilarated and nervous at the prospect of getting caught. I never really got roped in to this peer pressurised taboo but I frequently saw it happen in and around school and it was widely talked about amongst my peers.
It would appear now, that young people are far more aware and find it less and less of an ‘exciting’ thing to do. The truth remains of course that if you present something to a young person and tell them not to do it, a voice in the mind thinks that it is therefore ‘rebellious’ and ‘out of bounds’ it must of course be more enticing and inviting.
What if it was not presented as a particularly positive or negative thing? What if the ‘big deal’ was the effects that smoking caused and not whether it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Lots of the stop smoking adverts work brilliantly because it lets us (the general public) see the effects of smoking on REAL lives on our television screen. Could these be a useful classroom tool? Is the innovative approach to shock by talking about ‘loss’ and personal experience?
Many teachers’, educators and non-smoking campaigners are of course sat in front of their computer screens now, shouting: ‘That’s what we already do anyway’ and I’m sure that this is the case.
Nevertheless, if a 30 second television advert produced by the NHS has the ability to move us to tears, shock or anger, then when we have an hour slot to talk about smoking – why are so many young people still choosing to do so?
There is a fantastic picture available online which shows many of the harmful substances that are in cigarettes. When I show this picture to students as part of our workshops, I always approach the notion tactfully and without making it a big deal. For instance, I might say, I was shocked when I saw this picture as I had no idea that some of these bizarre substances were inside cigarettes (vinegar and paint to name but two.)
Sometimes just the little things, such as how much clothes and skin smell of cigarettes and associating it psychologically with negativity – the feeling of desperation. I often use the analogy ‘remember how uncomfortable it is when you need the toilet and you are unable to go.’ A smoker can often find themselves trapped in this predicament – the want or need to do something that they can’t (because it’s been so readily banned in public places.)
A little shock tactics can be a good thing – but not all of the time.
Sometimes just discussing the effects in a way that’s not at all patronising or condescending is a more positive way forward.