Youth work works: contributing to a tobacco-free generation by 2034 Reply

Much of the story of young people and tobacco is well known.

We are all too aware that the younger a person starts to smoke, the more likely they are to continue smoking into adulthood, the more heavily they are likely to smoke as an adult and the more likely they are to fall ill and die early as a result of smoking.

We know that almost all long-term smokers take up smoking as a young person.  Around two thirds of smokers start smoking before the age of 18 and over a third (39%) start before they are 16.

We also know that young people from the most deprived areas progress to regular smoking more rapidly and more frequently than those in the least deprived areas.

We see that smoking rates are disproportionately high amongst disadvantaged young people, such as looked after children and young offenders.

This reality is difficult to ignore and it highlights why actively supporting, promoting and developing tobacco prevention projects and policies needs to be at the heart of community youth work. But for increasingly cash-strapped youth projects the availability and access to funding can have a major impact on their ability of to address tobacco prevention issues as effectively as they might like.

Lothian Association of Youth Clubs, in partnership with NHS Lothian, have been offering small action grants to youth groups across the Lothians to develop tobacco focussed projects.  Groups can apply for up to £750 to turn their ideas into action – anything that would reduce the harm caused by tobacco or stop young people from starting to smoke.

All kinds of projects are considered – sport, music, film, peer education, dance, art, photography – just as long as there is a strong smoking prevention message and it involves young people between 11-24 years. Grants in the past have been used to develop and deliver peer training; photography projects on recording smoking in the local area; creating short films by young people for young people; fact packs to use in youth clubs and even a healthy eating project to promote healthy alternatives to smoking.

Following a successful couple of rounds, the impact of those grants was increasingly impressive; discussions between LAYC and NHS Lothian took place on how to add further value to this project. Increased joint investment by NHS Lothian and LAYC created a full time post that enabled the project to better support grant awards and develop tobacco training and policy development.

LAYC know their members and the rapidly changing nature of youth work priorities which often means youth projects have many issues address with the young people they work with. LAYC’s Youth Tobacco project recognises this and provides a tailored service offering advice, support or training that suits each organisation to ensure they develop effective health promoting tobacco messages that really work for them and the communities they work with.  The project offers:

  • Interactive workshops raising the issue of smoking
  • Ideas for running smoking related workshops with young people
  • Developing or updating a smoking prevention policy to assist staff
  • Staff team discussions around the issue of young people and smoking
  • Input for peer education programmes focusing on smoking

Looking to the future, Scotland’s vision is for fewer than 5% of the population to still be smoking by 2034. This ambitious target requires action and investment from government, local authorities and the health service but ultimately it’s organisations like LAYC, working with communities, who are in the valuable position to influence real cultural change, to promote the powerful fact that smoking is not the social norm and equip our young Scots with the knowledge and confidence to be advocates for a tobacco-free generation. That’s why we’re encouraging community youth work organisations to get behind Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation.

To find out more about developing an effective health promoting tobacco policy for your youth organisation, take a look at our tobacco policy support guide here.

For more information on the Youth Tobacco Project at LAYC you can get in touch with Laurene Edgar via or visit

To register your support for Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation

Case Study 1

The Eclipse Peer Educators from West Lothian devised and produced two 12ft square board games, one each for primary and secondary school pupils.

The games are based on information sessions they delivered on tobacco and they also undertook a significant amount of new research on topics including tobacco history, advertising, legislation and celebrity endorsements.

As well as the additional knowledge gained about tobacco and smoking issues, the team also gained new skills in the process of designing the games including developing the artwork, writing the rules etc.

Case Study 2

Beating the Bootleggers, a group of young people from Broxburn, decided to take on the counterfeit tobacco industry by raising awareness of the dangers of buying and using this illegal product. They raised the issue after realising they and their peers were being offered cheap counterfeit tobacco products locally. They held workshops to research the topic and find out about the issue.

The staff then worked with the group to create, design and produce leaflets and posters to handout to other groups under the strapline, “Kill yourself for half the price”. Working as a group on a topic they all felt strongly about built their confidence and new friendships. They gained new skills in research, learning and the production of materials.

They plan to continue to use the materials and resources to raise awareness at local events and promote healthier lifestyles.

Case Study 3

Over 30 young men from Wallyford Community Centre took part in Active Goals which combined football with a harm reduction approach to smoking.

This meant the project was able to tackle a health issue (smoking) in an informal, non-intrusive way. Youth workers were also able to tackle core literacies such as reading, writing and speaking as well as critical literacy applied to health.

Fifteen young men attended the football sessions each week, aged 16-24; a group for whom ‘health education’ would not have been an option, or occasionally interrupted by, good, honest discussion about smoking and health.

The active sessions were followed by information and discussion sessions where the participants could explore and increase their knowledge of the issue and their literacy skills. Quizzes and questionnaires were used to engage the young men, gather information and gauge their knowledge.

From these it was clear some did not believe the facts, some knew them but chose to ignore them, while other said they were keen to give up smoking altogether. Funding has now been found to allow the project to continue.


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