Smoking is a real drag on young people’s life chances

With National No Smoking Day just around the corner, Emma Papakyriakou from ASH Scotland and Colin Lumsdaine from NHS Lothian tell us why youth work needs to help young people think twice about lighting up a cigarette.

no-smoking-day-banner_bLet’s forget for a second that smoking is an addictive killer. Put that aside for now and let’s talk about cold, hard cash.

Money makes the world go around. This is particularly true for young people, and especially those without too much money to play with. For this group, the health impacts of smoking may seem a distant concern but the financial costs hit immediately – and keep stacking up.

Smoking is expensive, costing the average smoker in Scotland £1,600 a year. That’s a car or a summer holiday. For a couple getting married at age 30, it could be the deposit on a flat. In the here and now, it’s the difference between eating well or not, having a hobby or simply being able to engage in social life.

Yet for a variety of reasons, about 36 young Scots take up smoking every day. Most do so before they are 18 and almost all by the age of 25. The great majority of those who start smoking go on to wish they hadn’t.

The factors which push people to smoke, and the protective factors which discourage it, are closely linked to social and economic circumstances. So we find that smoking rates are four times higher in the most deprived communities, even though these smokers are just as likely to say they want to stop.

This means that young people growing up in these communities are more likely to have parents or families who smoke. They will live in areas where cigarettes are more widely sold and where smoking is seen as a normal part of daily life.

They will also be more at risk of the stresses that drive people to seek a coping mechanism, albeit a harmful one. Altogether this looks less and less like a lifestyle ‘choice’ and more like part of the problems facing disadvantaged youth.

The National Youth Work Strategy talks of improving the life chances of young people in Scotland. If we are to deliver on that goal we must not ignore a significant cost borne by disadvantaged groups, which they themselves tell us they want to be free of.

Tobacco is highly addictive and once started, smoking can be very hard to stop. So the best way to help people avoid the huge costs it brings is to catch them when they’re young and equip them with the knowledge and skills to choose not to get involved in the first place. Prevention is, after all, so much better than cure.

There are many competing demands on the youth work sector today, which is why the online web resource Tobacco-free Generation was designed by the Youth Sector Tobacco Prevention Group (ASH Scotland, YouthLink Scotland, Fast Forward, Youth Scotland) to equip youth workers to integrate tobacco into their existing practice.

For more information on this resource, learning opportunities or local partners specialising in this area email ASH Scotland at or call 0131 225 4725.


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