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
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. …