How can young adults #befree and achieve more? 1

ASH Scotland is preparing to launch a new campaign highlighting how not smoking leaves young adults happier, better off and achieving more. Our Development Lead Emma Papakyriakou explains why…..

The tobacco industry deliberately built up smoking as a lifestyle choice promising to help young adults find their identity as they navigate this period of transition, a time when they are still learning about themselves, their potential and where they fit in.

And yet what the tobacco industry would like to hide from the 36 young people who take up smoking each day in Scotland, is that they are entering into a contract with nicotine, which is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. A pack a day habit will cost £250 a month of their limited finances, immediately impact on their energy levels and fitness and dictate their daily schedules as they socialise, train, learn or work around smoking breaks – while developing unhelpful coping mechanisms that can be hard to break.  

While the majority of young adults in Scotland are smoke-free, a significant number of 16 – 24 year olds do smoke (21%).  The factors which push people to smoke, and the protective factors which discourage it, are closely linked to social and economic circumstances and as such it looks less and less like a lifestyle choice and more like part of the problems facing disadvantaged young adults. So we can understand why smoking rates are four times higher in the most deprived communities, even though these groups are just as likely to say they want to stop.

This means that young adults growing up in these communities are more likely to have parents or families who smoke. They will live in areas where cigarettes are more widely sold and where smoking is more commonly accepted as a normal part of daily life. And while most schools and families today are conscious about creating a smoke-free environment for children, young adults often arrive into a culture where smoking breaks are the norm, where doorways and entrances are visible gathering points for smoking breaks and where smoking is an expected part of the social scene.

It’s fundamental that we acknowledge that young adults who are non-smokers are still at risk – today most smoking uptake happens between the ages of 16 and 24. The environments they are transitioning into, and between, can influence the choices they make. Young adults growing up in these communities are more likely to experience fragmented post-school transitions than those from the least deprived areas. It is understandable that those who play a key role in guiding young adults through this period of difficult and challenging transition focus on issues which affect a young adult’s ability to engage, such as low educational attainment, mental health issues or financial hardship. However any consideration of the overall attainment, well-being and life outcomes of young adults must include that smoking rates are highest amongst young adults not in education, employment or training (41%) compared to those in work (24%) or fulltime education (13%).

Smoking need not be inevitable for these young adults. They have more to gain by being smoke-free and we know young adults want better for themselves and their families regardless of their postcode. We’ve been out speaking to young adults, who have told us some of their goals for the next 12 months – passing exams, getting a job, saving for their driver’s license, buying a car, being a good parent and going to college, to name a few.

Our #befree campaign will be clear and simple and link to these aspirations, complementing existing efforts to help young adults achieve more.

Watch this space.

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