Approximately 15,000 young people in Scotland start to smoke each year. That’s 40 a day. Almost two-thirds of smokers in the UK started to smoke when they were under the age of 18 and almost every smoker in the UK started before they were 24. Smokers start early.
The latest figures from the schools based SALSUS Survey show that smoking rates are just 2% for 13 year olds and 9% for 15 year olds. So does that mean that our job is now done in terms of encouraging children and young people to choose not to smoke? Not at all!
Whilst tobacco prevention messages are having a positive impact for younger teenagers, the uptake of smoking over the age of 16 remains a concern with smoking rates for 16-24 year olds currently sitting at around 23%.
The younger an individual starts to smoke, the more likely they are to be an adult smoker, the more heavily they will smoke during adulthood and the more likely they are to fall ill and die early as a result of smoking.
Young people from the most deprived areas, areas where youth work services actively engage young people directly and effectively, progress to regular smoking more rapidly than those from the least deprived areas.
In 2013, the Scottish Government launched a new Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland, entitled ‘Creating a Tobacco-Free Generation’. The Strategy sets out a clear target for Scotland to be tobacco-free by 2034, meaning that a young person born in 2013 will live in a country where tobacco use is a thing of the past by the time they are 21.
To achieve this ambitious goal, the Strategy seeks to continue to promote change in social attitudes so that young people see choosing not to smoke as the normal thing to do, no matter who they are or where they live.
Changing and shaping social attitudes in local communities is where the youth work sector has a vital role to play. This is recognised by Action 13 of the Strategy, which states:
“We will work with the youth sector to support smoking prevention programmes.”
In response to Action 13, ASH Scotland, Fast Forward, NHS Health Scotland, Young Scot, Youth Scotland, YouthLink Scotland and Local Authority Youth Work Managers in Scotland have formed the Youth Sector Tobacco Prevention Group (YSTPG). The core aim for the YTSPG is to provide the help and support youth workers across Scotland need in order to effectively engage the young people they work with on tobacco issues.
In December 2014 the YTSPG completed a consultation exercise with youth work practitioners and asked them to detail their existing activity on tobacco, any available resources they are aware of and their views on the support that would help youth workers to address tobacco.
Youth workers told us that whilst smoking and tobacco use is an important issue for the young people that they work with, they sometimes lack the information, time and resources needed to address smoking and tobacco issues as effectively as they might like to. They also told us that if regular awareness raising sessions and training on tobacco prevention were freely available, they would readily access it.
The YTSPG have developed Tobacco-Free Generation, an online resource designed to help youth workers get started on tobacco prevention activity and they offer:
- Information on tobacco in Scotland and your area;
- Accessible session ideas and resources;
- Tobacco awareness raising sessions for workers;
- Case studies and examples of effective practice;
- Networking opportunities;
- Support to help your group or organisation develop effective tobacco policies
Beyond the new webpages, YSTPG activity will also focus on shaping and developing a clear message that tobacco prevention activity need not be difficult and that it is most effective when addressed in conjunction with other core youth work priorities such as physical activity or alcohol and drug use.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, Tobacco Awareness Raising Sessions will be offered as part of Youth Scotland’s Training Essentials events, meaning that youth workers can get access to the information and tobacco prevention support that they need in their own area.
It is important that we raise awareness about smoking in the same way we offer young people advice on drugs, alcohol and sexual health.
We know that protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of young people is fundamental to the role of any youth worker. We also know that people that work with young people are role models for many young people. Evidence shows that young people are more likely to become smokers if parents smoke, friends smoke or people they see as role models smoke. Under such circumstances, addressing smoking and tobacco with young people needs to be seen as a core priority of the role of a youth worker.
Youth workers are in a prime, almost unique position to build on existing relationships, be positive role models and empower young people to make positive choices about their health and their behaviour. Do that, and a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034 might just become a reality.
To get information, activity ideas and resources that will help you get started with tobacco prevention activity, access the Tobacco-Free Generation webpages: www.youthworkessentials.org/youth-tobacco