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‘They think it’s cool’

D espite the ban on cigarette advertising and school lessons about
the “wicked weed”, smoking remains as popular as ever among British
teenagers. According to statistics published by the Department of
Health in December, six out of ten 15-year-old girls say they have
smoked, and almost half of all 15 year old boys. At age ten, 10 per
cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls say they have tried cigarettes
and by 12 the figures rise to 17 per cent and 16 per cent. So 0-19
asked a group of 10 to 12 year olds what they think about
smoking.

Jordan, aged 10, is a keen sportsman and doesn’t want to smoke. “It
could kill you,” he says. “It says so on the boxes. Your lungs are
going to turn black. I want to play football. I’ve heard that if
you smoke a little bit you get addicted. My dad smokes. He’s trying
to give up.” Jordan seems unconcerned about the impact of smoking
on his father’s health. “He’s a grown up,” he shrugs. Jordan thinks
that increasing the price would deter some people from smoking. “If
they were £10 a box kids wouldn’t buy them. People who are
really addicted would buy them anyway, if it’s like their life
blood.” He adds that adults smoke because of stress.

But why do so many children and teenagers try smoking? Jordan
believes that it’s about wanting to appear mature. “Some girls
think it’s more cool and grown up to smoke.”

Joe, also 10, says he hasn’t tried smoking himself but that one of
his friends has. “James knows some teenagers. I think he’s tried
weed as well. Smoking damages your lungs and every cigarette you
smoke takes 10 minutes off your life,” he says. “It causes cancer
and it can give you heart attacks.” Will he ever try it? “I don’t
want to but friends may push you into it. People might put loads of
pressure on you.”

Sinem, aged 11, believes that choosing to smoke is more to do with
what your parents or older brothers or sisters do. She says: “I’ve
seen boys doing it in the high street. They think it’s a good thing
to do and probably they take after their mum or dad.”

Neither of Sinem’s parents smoke, but her uncle does. “I say to him
‘Do you like smoking?’ He tells me not to do it. He can’t seem to
stop. My auntie used to smoke but she stopped when my cousin was
little. When she’s watching a movie and she feels like smoking she
chews gum instead.” Sinem knows from a poster she saw in a doctor’s
surgery in Cyprus that smoking is harmful. “It’s a bad drug. If you
smoke too much it makes your body go black inside.”

Sinem lives above her mother’s hairdressing salon and often comes
into the salon while her mother is working. “If one of the clients
is smoking I move away. I can’t stand the smell. If my uncle is
smoking I just go and play with my cousins.”

Anna, who is approaching her teens, is aware that she is at an age
at which girls are more likely to try smoking. “There’s a girl in
my year who smokes, she just walked past the school gates smoking,
like she didn’t care what people thought. She’s the sort of girl
who is rude and gets into trouble quite a lot.” She is also aware
that a lot of girls try smoking because of peer pressure. “Someone
I know tried it. They said, ‘I’ve tried it and I don’t like it,’
and now she’s got something to say to other people who want her to
try it.”

Anna has no desire to try smoking herself. She explains: “I don’t
like the thought that you could be damaged by it. I was brought up
to think that smoking is a bad thing to do.”

Elliot, 12, is less emphatic. “I’m not tempted to try it. I’m not
at that age yet.” Have any of his friends tried smoking? “If they
have then they’ve not told me. Some of their mums have told them
what cigarettes taste like because they don’t want them to try it.”
He adds: “Most people do that when they’re older. At school people
smoke in the woods just behind the school. The teachers see them
but they don’t care. They’re mostly year 11s.”

Elliot doesn’t think that either his older brother or sister have
tried cigarettes, although his father smokes. His mother, who gave
up years ago, doesn’t let people smoke in her house.

“She does childminding and she doesn’t want the little kid to
inhale. My dad says he wants to quit but it’s quite hard. He’s
trying for a new job and if he gets it he’ll quit. He wants to be a
driving instructor and you can’t smoke in the car.”

Elliot isn’t too worried about the risks of passive smoking. He
says: “Breathing other people’s smoke isn’t as bad as smoking. My
dad smokes at his house. I go round his four times a week.
Sometimes you breathe it in and its smells horrible. Once when I
was about six I tried hiding his cigarettes but it didn’t work.”

So do school school lessons on smoking make any difference ? Elliot
is not impressed. “We watched these videos but they were rubbish.
It was just this bloke who didn’t keep up with other people
running. Nobody thought it was convincing.” The class also saw
photos of smokers’ lungs. “I just thought, ‘I don’t want lungs like
that’. No one said they wanted to smoke but some people said they
might because other people would talk them into it.”

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