Campaign cuts number of teenage smokers

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The number of teenagers in Guernsey who smoke has been cut by half after one of the most successful anti-tobacco campaigns in more than a decade.

The number of teenagers in Guernsey who smoke has been cut by half after one of the most successful anti-tobacco campaigns in more than a decade.

Radical measures to curb tobacco use, introduced to the Channel Island in the late 1990s, have brought a big change in the way smoking is perceived by young people, with a sharp decline in the number saying they were attracted to it.

Campaigners say the measures could be introduced on the mainland with similar success. "Guernsey has led the way in reducing smoking among young people," the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said.

In 1997, the island banned all tobacco advertising, restricted smoking in public places, raised the age limit for buying cigarettes from 16 to 18 and imposed a sharp increase in the tax on cigarettes of 8.5 per cent a year above inflation.

The extra tax was used to fund a £500,000-a-year schools programme to cut smoking among teenagers called Gasp (Guernsey Adolescent non-Smoking Project). Those who already smoked were offered nicotine replacement therapy.

A survey of 11, 13 and 15 year-olds on the island conducted in 2002 by the Schools Health Education Unit at Exeter University found the number who said they had smoked at least one cigarette in the previous week was half that recorded in 1997. The survey also found that the proportion of teenagers in Guernsey who smoked was half that seen in a similar survey of British young people carried out by Exeter University.

Clive Bates, director of ASH, said: "There are certain principles such as increasing tax and banning advertising which we know work in every society and they have been particularly well applied in Guernsey." Although cigarettes were cheaper in Guernsey, it was rising prices that deterred people rather than their absolute level, he said.

Alun Williams, chairman of the Gasp programme, said: "We are really excited about these results. We have taken a risk by being at the forefront of smoking reduction initiatives and we have seen now that the risk has paid off."

The programme employed two full-time workers – one of them a former athlete who had had lung surgery for a smoking-related condition – whose task was to challenge smoking's image as sophisticated and cool. Their lessons played on a mixture of fun and fear by pointing out that smokers were less kissable, less athletic and smellier than non-smokers.

The strategy appears to have worked with children on the island now referring to smokers as "outcasts" who have to puff away in doorways to satisfy their craving.

Mr Bates said although Guernsey's achievement was impressive there was more that could be done. "They have still not gone as far as Ireland which is introducing smoke-free bars from January 2004. That is an amazingly bold and inspired move," he said.

Figures for 2001, the latest available, show the level of smoking among 15-year-olds in England has come down only slightly from 24 per cent in 1998 to 22 per cent.

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