Lessons in abstinence on No Smoking Day – Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 13 March 2013

A hundred years ago many doctors were happy to persuade the public that smoking was a healthy activity.

Lessons in abstinence on No Smoking Day – 13 March 2013

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 13 March 2013

By Jo Knowsley

A hundred years ago many doctors were happy to persuade the public that smoking was a healthy activity.

During the First World War, British soldiers were given rations of cigarettes because smoking was believed to calm their nerves. And in the early decades of the 20th century, Hollywood stars did much to make the habit appear not only socially acceptable but the height of glamour.

Today just about everyone knows that smoking cigarettes – or anything else for that matter – is bad for your health. But how do you persuade young people, who in many countries are taking up the habit in growing numbers, that it is neither “cool” nor “classy”?

Children rarely realise how quickly they can be hooked – tobacco is said to be more addictive than heroin – and girls in particular can use smoking to maintain a low weight.

But new research released today to coincide with No Smoking Day shows that stubbing out cigarettes for good cuts the risk of heart disease even if a former smoker gains “significant” weight (typically 6-13lbs, or 1.7-5.9kg).

Researchers from Harvard Medical School, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the smoking habits and heart health of more than 3,000 people between 1981 and 2011, and found that those who had not smoked for more than four years had a 54 per cent lower risk of heart and artery disease than those still indulging their habit.

Dr James Meigs, one of the authors of the study, said: “We can now say without question that stopping smoking has a very positive effect on cardiovascular risk for patients with and without diabetes, even if they experience moderate weight gain.”

Smoking and its devastating health consequences may be central to PSHE and biology lessons, but it could feature in history and geography, too.

For example, by the mid-17th century every major civilization had been introduced to tobacco smoking. By the end of that century, the English word “smoking” was common parlance. (Before that, the activity had been known as “drinking smoke”.)

But even then there were people who detested the habit and tried to put a stop to it. In 1604, for example, James I tried to curb the trend by enforcing a whopping 4,000 per cent tax increase on tobacco.

And in 1634 the Patriarch of Moscow forbade the sale of tobacco and sentenced men and women who flouted the ban to have their nostrils slit and their backs whipped until the skin came off – certainly a harsher deterrent than today’s tax rises.


  • Why do you think people continue to smoke despite knowing the risks?
  • What can be done to discourage young people from smoking in the first place?
  • How important is it to you to be 'cool' and to fit in with what your friends are doing?
  • Throughout history there are examples of governments legislating against smoking. How far do you think governments should be able to control people's habits and behaviour?

Resources for you


  • Take a look at this concise, visual and easy to follow PowerPoint on the effects of smoking.

Facts on tobacco and smoking

  • Explore the iimpact of smoking, the chemicals, financial cost and how to quit with this informative worksheet.

Interactive quiz from Brain Pop UK

  • Find out why smoking is bad for your health, the difficulties with quitting and what you can do to help people with an interactive resource from TES partner Brain POP UK.

Peer Pressure

  • Discuss the impact of peer pressure using this worksheet activity that involves group work and different scenarios.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

Enthusiasts around the world prepare for Pi Day. At the start, it was merely pie in the sky. The idea of an entire day dedicated to a single number is, after all, almost as irrational as the number itself.

Much of the focus of International Women’s Day is on the issue of ensuring that girls in developing countries receive access to education.

It’s a cliché to say that children grow up more quickly these days. But today it has been claimed that childhood is effectively over for many children by the age of 12.

Does new research into chimpanzee behaviour prove that the female of the species has a genetic destiny to be unkind to one another?

In the news archive index