Dear Ted

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice -or offer some of your own

What can we do about a group of Year 10 girls who are hardcore smokers? Nothing seems to work

Ted says

You have identified a major problem, in schools and in society. Girls and young women now smoke more than boys and young men, which was not the case two or three decades ago. They also drink much more than they once did.

Hence the argument that they could be the first generation to die before their parents.

Subtlety is required with smokers, as endless haranguing will not work.

Indeed it becomes a challenge to defiance. Try to get some girls at least to want to give up, even if they don't succeed. Form a self-help group, bringing in an expert who understands the most likely successful approaches. Celebrate and congratulate those who kick the habit.

Try a family approach, as smoking often runs in families, and there may be others who want to give up. Work out ways of spending the money they will save. Drastic measures are tempting, but not always successful. A trip to a hospital to see victims of smoking-related disease might work for some, but others think it won't happen to them, or it's all a hundred years away.

Peer pressure is powerful at that age, so I have always felt that paying fellow pupils to stagger away from smokers, clutching their noses and shouting, "God, you reek of smoke" might work - although I've never had the gall to try it.

You say

Form a group to help them quit

At our school, which caters for Years 10 to 13, we also have concerns about hardened smokers. We have had some success with a smoking cessation group, co-ordinated by our youth worker after consultation with the school nurse.

Training and support has been provided for them through "Resolutions". Have a quick browse on You will find something that appeals to your "addicts".

Matthew Pike, Nottingham

Be honest, but don't nag

In their developing minds, the Year 10s probably think they won't become addicted, they won't develop cancer, they don't smell of smoke and they won't continue the habit past their late teens. The most appropriate way to address this issue is to ensure that the channels of communication between you and them remain open and honest so that a mature dialogue can take place.

Don't isolate them by giving them a long lecture about the dangers: they may perceive it as you interfering in their lives and will continue to smoke out of pure rebellion. Be honest. Explain that you think it is your duty, as a professional, to warn them of the dangers. You can use a variety of resources for this and possibly develop the concepts in curriculum areas such as PSHE or science. You could even hold a class or school poll to ask who prefers smokers or non-smokers.

Nathan Davies, Exeter

Bring out the 'smoking machine'

Target pupils in Year 7: you stand more chance of catching them before they develop the dreaded habit. There are some very persuasive videos that you should have in your school. It's also a good idea to bring out the ages-old science "smoking machine".

With the aid of a small pump the machine "smokes" a cigarette and you can collect masses of nasty toxic gunge. Pass this round on a watch glass and ask the class to close their eyes and imagine kissing it! It seems to have more effect than pages of statistics charting increased risks of lung cancer in later years.

Marlene Griffin, Welwyn Garden City

Patrol the school grounds

If the usual scare tactics of photos of blackened lungs, death bed regrets - ... la anti-smoking television campaign - and statistics haven't worked, then you haven't much of a hope. You can, though, make it very difficult for them to smoke at school. Patrol the hidden corners and enforce strict penalties if offenders are caught. It might, at least, help them cut down if their smoking hours are limited by school attendance. Worth a try.

Angela Pollard, Guernsey

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