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How Peer Pressure Can Prevent Teenagers Smoking

May 9 2008 by Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail

TEEN smoking can be reduced by training popular secondary school pupils to spread anti-smoking messages.

The scheme, which was developed by experts in Cardiff, could reduce the number of teen smokers in the UK by 43,000 every year.

Research into the effect of the Assist (A Stop Smoking in Schools Trial) programme, which is published today in The Lancet, comes as teen smoking rates – particularly among girls – remain high in Wales.

The latest figures suggest that more than a quarter of children under 16 smoke – 27.5% of girls aged 15 and 16 in Wales smoke. It is thought that many children only choose to smoke if their friends already do.

But peer-pressure can also have a positive impact and result in some children deciding to remain smoke-free.

Professor Laurence Moore, director of the Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics, which developed the Assist programme, said: “A lot of time and effort goes into encouraging children not to take up regular smoking in schools but that generally hasn’t been found to be particularly effective as often kids will do the opposite of what their teachers tell them.

“With the rise in social networking websites, we know that kids are much more responsive to messages they get from their peers.”

The Assist training programme involves initially asking pupils to nominate influential students in their year group.

The most popular – those who are respected by their peers and are considered to be good leaders – were recruited and trained as peer supporters.

They were then asked to have conversations with other students in their year group about the benefits of not smoking over a 10-week period.

The research into the Assist programme was done in 59 schools across Wales and western England among pupils aged 12 and 13 – 30 schools received the Assist training programme while the remainder continued their normal smoking cessation programmes.

The researchers, from Cardiff University and the University of Bristol, found that students were 25% less likely to take up regular smoking immediately after the Assist project had been run in their school; 23% less likely to start regular smoking after one year and 15% less likely after two years.

In schools using conventional smoking-cessation programmes, 21% were less likely to smoke immediately after; 25% after one year and 15% after two years.

The Assist programme will be rolled out to 49 Welsh schools this year .

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