As tobacco sponsorship threw the Government into a spin last week, the Health Education Board for Scotland announced a major new campaign targeting teenagers who are tempted to smoke to see what it is like.
The board points to a survey by Edinburgh University on behalf of the World Health Organisation which showed that only half of secondary pupils who experiment with cigarettes continue to smoke.
"The dabblers of today need not become the addicts of tomorrow," the board states. A television commercial, entitled Blue Planet, will target teenagers who have tried smoking and are not yet hooked, as well as young people who are tempted but still hesitate.
The board says teenagers start smoking for a variety of reasons including a desire to be anti-authority, to appear adult and sophisticated, to be part of a particular group and to "look cool".
The campaign will concentrate on drawbacks identified by young people themselves, such as the smell cigarettes leave on clothes, hair and breath, their taste and the way they affect fitness. It will avoid "hectoring".
A study by the research unit for health and behaviour change at Edinburgh University found that 66 per cent of 15-year-old girls had experimented with cigarettes in 1994, a rise from 55 per cent in 1990. But a survey last year from the Office for National Statistics showed that 30 per cent of 15-year-olds in Scotland were smoking regularly, a 10 per cent rise for boys and 7 per cent for girls since 1994.
The board suggests that, taken together, the figures imply that only about half of those who start smoking stay with the habit until they are 15. This backs up figures from Smokeline advice service which show that 200,000 teenagers, half of all callers, want to know how to quit. The line was set up by the HEBS five years ago.
Candace Currie, the leading researcher from the Edinburgh University unit which has just completed the Scottish end of the World Health Organisation's study on a range of children's health issues, says the increase in smoking among teenage girls in particular has been found in other western European countries. But Scottish girls are in the highest third of the 24 countries in the study.
Previous research by the Edinburgh unit indicates that young people who are well integrated at school are less likely to smoke. These issues will be followed up by the next international study in 1998 which will focus on smoking.
Sally Haw, the HEBS research specialist in substance misuse, said: "Our campaign is here to remind teenagers that it is easier to avoid becoming addicted while you are still at the experimental stage and even better if you never start in the first place."
David Campbell, the board's chairman, said: "Tobacco companies need to recruit a classroom of Scottish children every day to replace smokers who have died - a frightening thought." The board estimates that, of the 100,000 teenage smokers in Scotland, 50,000 will die because of a habit started now.
The Edinburgh University survey of pupils' changing health habits between 1990-94 found little improvement in the unhealthy high fat and high sugar diet of Scottish young people compared with other countries. The survey involved 9,000 Scottish children aged 11, 13 and 15 and was part of a study into healthy behaviour in 24 European countries and Canada.
There was some good news in that consumption of fresh fruit, raw vegetables and wholemeal bread is on the increase. But so is the intake of sweets, chips and fizzy drinks. The findings also reveal that almost half of young people do not eat a daily breakfast.
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