Teenagers have not started using fewer cigarettes and vapers in recent years, even though that was an objective of the National Prevention Agreement. Eveline Crone, professor of developmental psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, explains how to ensure that young people stop or do not start smoking at all. Peer pressure proves crucial in this.
The aim of the prevention agreement was to have a smoke-free generation by 2040. That goal now seems very far away. Newspaper AD reports that the number of young people aged 16 to 20 who say they have never touched a cigarette fell from 82 per cent in 2020 to 78.9 per cent last year. And among young adults (aged 20 to 24), almost a third smoke.
It's not down to the measures: smoking is becoming increasingly expensive and smoking goods are sold in fewer and fewer places. Moreover, you are hardly allowed to smoke anywhere anymore. Our own Campus Woudestein, for example, is completely smoke-free. In AD, Eveline Crone calls the price increases and other restrictions sensible, but not decisive. "Adolescence is simply the stage of life to try things out, including things that are not allowed or harmful."
Peer pressure is the most important factor
She cites peer pressure as the most important factor for young people to start smoking. After all, not smoking can mean instant social death. "A campaign like 'you will get your driving licence if you don't smoke until the age of 18' makes little sense. That is way too far off the mark. The same goes for pointing out cancer, brain damage, or all kinds of diseases."
An example of a campaign that did work was the Truth Campaign in 1998 in Florida. "That asked young people the question: how do you feel about being a replacement smoker? That the tobacco industry is actively manipulating you so that you become addicted and can replace a smoker who will soon die of his addiction?"
Influencing in a positive way
Can peer pressure also be used in a positive way? "In previous research, we showed that young people can be influenced in both directions. For example, influenced by positive feedback from peers, they donate more to the common good. And the younger, the more impressionable young people are to peer pressure for the common good, in terms of brain activity. Think of role models for greater climate awareness, summer camps to help young people with difficult starting positions get ahead, or peer pressure to eat vegetarian."
Smoke-free campus still makes gains
Unfortunately, here on our smoke-free campus, we still sometimes see cigarette butts lying around. Yet Crone also sees the positive effects of this measure: "It is good to realise that no matter how effective a campaign is, the best result you can achieve is to reduce the number of smokers to about 10 per cent. The group that then remains often displays rebellious behaviour for a lot of different reasons that are difficult to avoid. But if you reduce smoking from 30 per cent to 10 per cent, you have already gained a lot! We should not be discouraged by this."