Britain's New Tack on Teen Smoking 'Respect' Campaign Accentuates Other Ways to Be 'Cool'

Article excerpt

Sarah Darby was only eight years old when her best friend persuaded her to try a cigarette. Both her parents were heavy smokers, so Sarah saw nothing wrong with taking a few experimental puffs - just to learn what the taste of tobacco was all about.

Sarah is now 16, the legal smoking age in Britain, and smokes about a pack a day. She spends about $18 a week on cigarettes, or more than a third of her earnings working part-time after school.

"I've thought about quitting, I've tried, but it hasn't worked. I want to, because it costs too much," she says.

Children like Sarah have prompted the British government to take action. But it is relying on positive rather than negative messages to get its antismoking message across.

Britain has not gone as far as the US, which just classified cigarettes as a drug, a measure that will allow regulation of advertising and sales. But last month, officials launched "Respect," a three-year campaign that aims both to stop young people from taking up smoking and to encourage current smokers to stop.

The scheme, which is targeted at teenagers but hopes to attract preteens as well, is managed by the private communications consultant Brewer Blackler Ltd. at a cost of $1.6 million per year. It follows up a moderately successful Teenage Smoking Campaign, which was launched in 1989.

"In certain older age groups there is a certain slight upward trend, something we have to be worried about and very careful about," says Bill Coyne of the Department of Health's Tobacco Policy Unit, which has helped design Respect. "In adult terms, smoking is going down every year, but the two paths will cross, so we have to take action as soon as we can."

Twelve percent of all 11 to 15 year olds in Britain smoke regularly, with at least 30 percent of all schoolchildren having experimented with cigarettes before age 11, according to a recent survey commissioned by the governmental Health Education Authority. About 30 percent of all 15-year-old girls and 26 percent of all 15-year-old boys smoke regularly, with the trend worsening in the slightly older age group.

Unlike programs in the past that have enjoyed only limited success, Respect will not rely on frightening young people with stories of illness and bad breath. Instead, it will concentrate on the positive by accentuating alternatives to smoking.

"There isn't a great deal of mileage to be gained from telling people that smoking is bad for them, they already know that. The goody-goody standing up and saying: 'I don't smoke, why should you?' has its drawbacks," says Mr. Coyne. "Our concentration will be on trying to provide alternatives."

To accomplish this, youth magazines will feature relatively subtle antismoking messages. Their aim will be to point out that healthy, fun alternatives - such as sports and other leisure pursuits - are cooler than tobacco.

Young readers will be encouraged to send away for discount vouchers on brand-name tennis shoes, computer software, and pizza dinners, all of which are tied into activities intended to be wholesome smoking substitutes. And national TV and sports stars will tour schools and feature in high-profile ads promoting a healthy, nicotine-free lifestyle. …