Tobacco Expert Reveals No. 1 Tip to Prevent Teen Cigarette Smoking

Tobacco Smoking

Visual cues play an important part toward initiating teen cigarette smoking. So much so, that anti-smoking activists have fought for legislation to remove smoking related visual cues from cigarette packaging, TV programming and movies. Ironically, the anti-smoking movement uses visual cues as well, but recent research shows that such ads may do more harm than good. The following article shows what one study on teen smoking has revealed; and, a tobacco expert’s advice to parents with a No. 1 tip to prevent your teen from smoking cigarettes.

A past focus of teen cigarette smoking prevention was to provide teens with explicit messages about the health risks associated with smoking. However, explicit messages are not working effectively. A recent study shows that teens tend to light up a cigarette more often when in the presence of another teen or just by seeing visual images of other teens smoking.

In the online scientific journals Nicotine and Tobacco Research, and Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researcher Zeena Harakeh released her findings regarding what she believes encourages young smokers to light up a cigarette. She found that within the age group of 16 to 24, young smokers tend to light up a cigarette when in the presence of another smoking youth. Furthermore, that the motivation to smoke a cigarette is stronger in the presence of a smoking peer than if the young person were just simply offered a cigarette.

According to a press release from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Ms. Harakeh—a social scientist from Utrecht University, states that, “I call this implicit, passive influencing, as it happens without the other person actively offering a cigarette,” she explains, while adding that young people who communicate with a peer online and see this person smoking, will smoke more themselves. “So the effect is there, even when they do not smell the cigarette scent of the other,” she says.

One of her recommendations is that anti-smoking campaigns no longer show images of young people as part of the visual cues against smoking. “Merely the image of a young smoker might well cause another young person to light up a cigarette,” says Ms. Harakeh.

Visual cues are an important part of the tobacco industry’s tactics to encourage smoking by teens. In a recent interview with Professor Robert Proctor, an expert on the tobacco industry and author of a new book about the abuses of the tobacco industry titled “Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition,” he explains that visual cues are very effective in promoting smoking behavior—especially in people whose brains have been rewired from previous nicotine exposure.

“Ads in movies are a particular problem with the tobacco industry influencing teenagers to take up smoking,” he says, giving an example in the movie Superman II where Superman flies through a billboard image of the Marlboro Man.


Of significance is the more recent popular movie “Avatar” where the actress Sigourney Weaver playing the role of scientist Dr. Grace Augustine, exits her avatar pod and says, “Where's my goddamn cigarette? What's wrong with this picture!”

Apparently the picture is the problem.

As the aforementioned study warns that ads used as visual cues to promote anti-smoking do not appear to work well with teens, neither does telling teenagers that smoking is bad for them by describing the damaging health effects of smoking or showing them images of what a smoker’s lungs look like.

According to Professor Proctor, the single most effective tip to prevent a teen from taking up smoking is to tell him or her that the tobacco industry is lying to them.

“Kids don’t like being lied to,” says Professor Proctor. “Of course you can tell them how bad smoking is for them, but tell them also about how they are being tricked through the industry’s smoking ads and products. That it’s a racket by the industry to get them to take that first smoke and become addicted to cigarettes.” He believes that the message that they are being lied to is one that resonates deeply within teenagers and is the one most likely to prevent teen cigarette smoking.

Last Thoughts on Smoking

If someone you know is a smoker and wants to quit, you may want to keep in mind that visual cues not only promote smoking, but reinforce the cravings to continue smoking. The website PsychCentral offers an informative and intelligent guide on how to quit smoking that interesting enough, does not encourage the use of the popular electronic cigarettes (E-cigarettes). It also recommends that all materials associated with smoking (think visual cues) are removed from the home—including your car cigarette lighter.

Image source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

1. Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research press release
2. PsychCentral Guide to Quit Smoking