Our co-director Professor Annie S Anderson writes….at age 15 I thought smoking was the coolest thing ever. I dared to be different (along with my small band of pals). Opportunities to smoke were limited – the school bus, at the back of the bike sheds and out on those “healthy” walks. My parents didn’t smoke but they also didn’t mind that I smoked as long as I didn’t set the house on fire. I guess they thought it was a sign of maturity. Smoking started with packets of 10 then progressed to packs of 20 when I started my first job and then roll ups when I became a student.  I remember smoking in my hospital based office in my first NHS post and feeling only slightly embarrassed when any consultants walked in. By the age of 25 I had been through several quit attempts and found new health conscious friends that clearly didn’t think much of smoking and then I found the will power to stop. I kidded on that I wasn’t addicted but for the next 20 years and I still had dreams in which I was smoking and I’d wake worried that I harboured that addictive tendency.

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With that background I was delighted to hear that ASH Scotland is preparing to launch a new campaign highlighting how not smoking leaves young adults happier, better off and achieving more. Development Lead from ASH (Emma Papakyriakou), explains more…

The tobacco industry deliberately built up smoking as a lifestyle choice promising to help young adults find their identity at a time when they are still learning about themselves, their potential and where they fit in. Where they can they still do this, so we feel it’s time to reclaim the aspirations of young adults.

The reality is that a pack a day habit will cost £250 a month of their limited finances, immediately impact on their energy levels and fitness and dictate their daily schedules as they socialise, train, learn or work around smoking breaks – while developing unhelpful coping mechanisms that can be hard to break.  

The factors which push people to smoke, and the protective factors which discourage it, are closely linked to social and economic circumstances and as such it looks less and less like a lifestyle choice and more like part of the problems facing disadvantaged young adults. So we can understand why smoking rates are four times higher in the most deprived communities, even though these groups are just as likely to say they want to stop.

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This means that young adults 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 more commonly accepted as a normal part of daily life. And while most schools and families today are conscious about creating a smoke-free environment for children, young adults often arrive into a culture where smoking breaks are the norm, where doorways and entrances are visible gathering points for smoking breaks and where smoking is an expected part of the social scene. 

Yet smoking need not be inevitable for these young adults. They have more to gain by being smoke-free and we know young adults want better for themselves and their families regardless of their postcode. We’ve been out speaking to young adults, who have told us some of their goals for the next 12 months – passing exams, getting a job, saving for their driver’s license, buying a car, being a good parent and going to college, to name a few.

Our #befree campaign will be clear and simple and link to these aspirations, complementing existing efforts to help young adults achieve more. The first phase of the campaign will use a new set of posters to promote the key message that not smoking means being happier, fitter and better off, and we aim to get these out to colleges, employability services and other venues where young adults spend their time.

If you can help with this then please contact Emma Papakyriakou on epapakyriakou@ashscotland.org.uk