Teenage smokers: the fool themselves about the risks, but love might make them quit & price might stop them starting

Tuesday 11 June 1996
ASH/ Press releases/

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Press Release

Imperial Cancer Research Fund,
ASH and Cancer Research Campaign
11th June 1996

Action on Smoking
and Health

Teenage smokers: They foolthemselves about the risks, but love might make them quit, and price might stop themstartingIf you want to make teenagers quit smoking, young love is the key. And if youdon’t want them even to start, hit them in their pockets. These measures may be moreeffective even than dire warnings because teenagers who smoke are simply conningthemselves that smoking isn’t all that dangerous.

Findings from a MORI survey of over 4,500schoolchildren provide evidence that teenagers who smoke and teenagers who don’t are aworld apart when it comes to beliefs about health risks and attitudes to smoking.

Some of the findings………..<fontface=”arial, sans-serif”=””>

Teenage smokers have crazy ideas about health risks

Teenage smokers are kidding themselves aboutthe dangers of tobacco. Around two-thirds of the teenage smokers think that the healthrisks from smoking are not very important. By contrast, only about a quarter of thenon-smokers made this mistake.

“Teenage smokers have crazy ideas aboutrisks,” said Professor Richard Peto, head of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’sCancer Studies Unit at Oxford. “They believe it’s about as important to avoid trafficfumes as cigarettes. The truth is that unless they quit smoking about half are going tokill themselves. Non-smokers who live in cities have very low lung cancer risks, whilesmokers who live in the countryside still have very high lung cancer risks. And, town orcountry, four-fifths of the smokers who have a heart attack in their thirties or fortieswouldn’t have had it if they hadn’t smoked.”

He said it was difficult to tell which camefirst: whether teenagers with crazy ideas about risk are more likely to take up smoking inthe first place or whether they start smoking and then rationalise their habit bydownplaying the risk.

Moreover, a third of the teenage smokers agreedwith the statement that ‘smoking can’t be all that dangerous or the Government would bansports sponsorship by tobacco companies’. “Sports sponsorship by tobacco companieskills people: it encourages children to get addicted to tobacco,” said Prof Peto.

“It’s bad news if teenage smokers don’tknow the real risks of smoking or the real benefits of quitting,” he said. “Overa quarter of 15 year-olds in Britain are already regular smokers. On current UK smokingpatterns about two million of today’s youngsters are going to be killed by tobacco, with amillion killed in middle age alone. But, young people who quit smoking avoid virtually allthe risks.”

The children were asked to decide which from alist of factors were the most important for helping people in general to live a long andhealthy life. There was clear awareness overall of the dangers of smoking, with notsmoking and exercise most often mentioned as important. But, smokers saw thingsdifferently when asked to decide what was ‘very important’. They ranked smoking wellbehind having a job and exercise and thought it was no more important than avoidingpesticides in food or traffic fumes. Among the 14 to 16-year old non-smokers, however,avoiding tobacco topped the list.

The chief difference in understanding whichrisks are very important and which aren’t, was not between north and south, boys andgirls, older and younger, or between those at different types of schools. It was betweennon-smokers and smokers. Most non-smokers did know that the risks from smoking are veryimportant – most smokers didn’t.


Young love rules for classroom smokers

Teenage smokers are more likely to kick thehabit if their sweetheart wants them to give up than any other reason. And the vastmajority said they would not be influenced if someone they admired, like a TV personalityor pop star, told them to quit.

Cancer Research Campaign experts said thefindings contradict widely-held preconceptions. “A lot of adults believe that youngsmokers would listen to celebrities’ advice on quitting,” said the Campaign’sDirector General, Professor Gordon McVie. “But this survey shows that it’s boy andgirlfriends who carry the most influence. Love really is the key to getting youngsters toquit!”

The MORI survey showed that four out of tensmokers would try to give up if their boy or girlfriend wanted them to stop and nearly onein five (19%) would give up if their best friends stopped smoking.

Almost one in six (16%) also said they wouldtry to give up if their parents encouraged them to stop. But only four per cent said theywould try to quit if someone they admired in the public eye told them to stop.

“This is interesting because it shows thatyoungsters do not want to be preached to by a celebrity,” said Professor McVie.

“But we believe they are influenced bypeople in the public eye in a far more subtle way – by what they see in magazines and onTV. And it’s up to people like supermodel Kate Moss to lead by example and kick thehabit.”

Other results were that 16% of youngsters wouldbe encouraged to give up if it became more difficult to buy cigarettes. Another 13% wouldbe encouraged to quit if smoking was banned in more public places like cafes and clubs and6% would be motivated to quit if the age at which shops were allowed to sell cigaretteswas raised to 18.

Hitting us in the pocket might stop usstarting say teenagers

Teenagers support the Government’s policy ofraising the price of cigarettes as a means of reducing consumption. Well over half ofteenagers surveyed (61%) said that a substantial increase in the price of cigarettes woulddiscourage them from taking up smoking. While support for the measure was highest amongnon-smokers (62%), a majority of current smokers (55%) also thought that increasing theprice of cigarettes to £5 for 20 would be a deterrent to young people taking up thehabit.

Non-smokers were also more likely to supportother tobacco control measures compared with smokers. After price rises, young peopleconsidered the next most important control would be giving heavy fines to people who sellcigarettes to under-16s. This was supported by 58% of non-smokers while only 33% ofcurrent smokers thought this would discourage young people from smoking.

Pamela Furness, chief executive of ASH, said:”This survey has highlighted the stark difference in attitudes between smokers andnon-smokers. It is a cause for concern that far fewer smokers than non-smokers believedthat policies designed to discourage smoking among the young would have much impact.”

“However, despite the fact that childrendo not recognise the influence of advertising – only 22% of smokers thought that a ban ontobacco advertising would discourage them from smoking – the fact remains that children dobuy and smoke the most heavily advertised brands.”

The survey revealed that Benson and Hedges, themost heavily advertised UK brand, is by far the preferred choice of young smokers. Aregional analysis of brands smoked showed that youngsters tend to buy the brands that areadvertised locally. Benson & Hedges, which is advertised in the south was the mostpopular brand chosen by 59% of teenagers in the south-east.

Commenting on the survey, Ms Furness said:”If the recent rise in teenage smoking is to be reversed, it is essential that theGovernment complements its policy on tax with a comprehensive tobacco advertisingban.”


Note for newsdesks: The survey formedpart of MORI’s regular Schools Omnibus survey. It was commissioned by: ASH, ImperialCancer Research Fund, Cancer Research Campaign, British Medical Association and the Royalcollege of Nursing.

The sample of schools comprised 192 middle andsecondary schools in England and Wales. The age groups included in the survey were 11-16year-olds in curriculum years 7 to 11. Fieldwork was conducted between 23 January and 19February 1996.

Help line tel: 0800 169 0 169 – for advice onstopping smoking.

“How important do you think the followingare in helping people in general to live a long and healthy life?”

Per cent replying “very important”

3884 non-smokers, age 11-16
629 smokers, age 11-16
Having a job/not being unemployed
Exercising regularly
NOT SMOKING cigarettes/tobacco
Avoiding air pollution from traffic
Avoiding pesticides in food
Not being overweight/fat
Avoiding junk food
Having a lucky star sign/birth sign

UK, 1996: MORI opinion poll

“Smoking can’t be all that dangerous, orthe Government would ban sports sponsorship by tobacco companies”

3884 non-smokers, age 11-16
629 smokers, age 11-16
(Neither, don’t know, or not replied to)

UK, 1996: MORI opinion poll


“Smoking can’t be all that dangerous, orthe Government would ban sports sponsorship by tobacco companies”

Only two-thirds expressed agreement ordisagreement, and this table is based on their replies

2728 non-smokers, age 11-16
359 smokers, age 11-16

UK, 1996: MORI opinion poll


Contact Amanda Sandford (020) 7739 5902
Margaret Wilson, ICRFSarah Page, CRC

Michele Corrado/Suzy Aronstam, MORI

0171 269 36160171 224 1333

0171 222 0232

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