Children as young as four may need to be targeted in anti-smoking campaigns if attempts to catch potential smokers early are to be successful.
The authors of the latest Effective Health Care bulletin on `Preventing the uptake of smoking in young people’ said most anti-smoking programmes have targeted 11-17 year olds, an age group where attitudes to smoking and experimentation with cigarettes have usually already taken place. Targeting children aged 4-8 years should therefore be considered.
There is no simple way of preventing children and young people from taking up smoking. School campaigns have achieved limited success and social reinforcement programmes seem to be more effective that traditional knowledge-based intervention.
Media campaigns can influence smoking behaviour and intensity and duration of these programmes appear to be important. The impact of laws governing sale of cigarettes to underage children is likely to have only a small impact on smoking.
However, community intervention programmes in multiple settings can have a collective influence on smoking behaviour. This, for example, would include age restrictions for tobacco purchase, smoke-free public places, media campaigns and special programmes in schools conducted en masse.
Smoking in the young has been on the increase with as many as 82 per cent of smokers taking up the habit during teenage years. The increasing number of young smokers will eventually feed through into adult smoking rates, say the authors of the bulletin. The uptake of smoking is complex and is rarely attributed to a single event. A strong factor in uptake of smoking is influence of family and peers.
Effective Health Care is produced by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York
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