Anti-smoking measures: Getting the message across to teens

Enough has been said about the disturbing increase in smoking among our youth ("Ending the smoking scourge" by Mr Jonathan Toh Joo Khai and "Which agency to call to report underage smokers?" by Mr Huang Muen; both published on Wednesday).

Clearly, arduous public campaigns all these years have failed.

As an educator in a tertiary institution, I feel increasingly dismayed to see more and more teenagers smoking outside the campus' fence.

Our current campaigns are ineffective because teens think they will never suffer ill health or die because of smoking. Thus, no matter what gory pictures we force cigarette companies to print on their packs, or what health hazards we publicise, the message just doesn't get across to young people.

Furthermore, peer pressure is just too strong. Teens have the idea that "it's not cool to not smoke if all your buddies are doing it".

May I offer three paradigm shifts.

First, introduce campaigns to show it can be "cool" not to smoke. Engage opinion leaders, for example, celebrities whom teens look up to, to endorse and spread this message.

Second, parents need to do their part as well. Those who are smokers should kick the habit.

And instead of telling teens that smoking is a health hazard, it might be more effective for parents to highlight the downsides that matter more to their children - the social unpleasantness of bad breath and discoloured teeth.

Parents should also avoid issuing threats. Instead, they should find out why their children are smoking. More often than not, it is an image and acceptance issue. The child may simply want to be accepted by his peers, or even to get his parents' attention.

The parents should then discuss with the child what changes can be made in his life to help him stop smoking.

They should be patient and support the child in his journey towards kicking the habit.

Also, they should adopt a smoke-free policy at home.

Third, perhaps more constituencies ought to seriously consider adopting Nee Soon South's policy of allowing smoking only in designated areas ("First community-led smoke-free zone goes on trial in Nee Soon South"; Jan 6).

Philip Siow

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