Wales urged to follow Guernsey's success in cutting teenage smoking
Feb 24 2003
Rhodri Evans Rhodri.Evans@Wme.Co.Uk
The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales
A RADICAL programme to cut teenage smoking - including raising the age limit for buying cigarettes to 18 - has been hailed as an over-whelming success.
The initiative on the island of Guernsey has seen the number of teenage smokers halved since 1997.
The programme not only included the higher age limit, but also better anti-smoking education, higher taxes and more smoke-free zones.
The results will give food for thought to policy-makers in Wales and elsewhere about how young people can be deterred from taking up the habit.
It is estimated that every day in the UK, 450 children take up smoking and 80% of smokers take up the habit as teenagers.
In Wales, 27% of the population are currently smokers, one of the highest rates in the UK.
Already the anti-smoking vice is tightening. The UK has now banned tobacco advertising, and AMs recently backed plans for a smoking ban in public places.
In Guernsey a series of measures to tackle smoking was instituted, including raising tax on tobacco, banning advertising and increasing the legal age at which cigarettes can be bought from 16 to 18.
The Guernsey Adolescent non-Smoking Project (Gasp) was also created to employ people to go into schools to educate young people about smoking.
It set up a club for primary school-children to reinforce the idea that being healthy can be fun through sports activities.
Now a new survey by Exeter University has shown that since the measures were introduced in 1997, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of teenagers who smoke or were intending to take it up in the future.
The survey found the number in 2002 who said they had smoked at least one cigarette during the previous week was half the number recorded in 1997.
It also showed the proportion of teenagers in Guernsey who smoked was half that seen in a similar survey of UK youngsters carried out by Exeter University.
Following the success of the Guernsey scheme, Plaid Cymru's Shadow Cabinet member for health, Dr Dai Lloyd, said he was in favour of making it more difficult for young people to buy cigarettes.
But he said it had to be done as part of a wider raft of measures to discourage smoking.
He said, "We certainly need to be looking at more pro-active ways of stopping young people smoking.
"The recent ban on tobacco advertising should be a great step forward and there are also the continuing conversations over a ban on smoking in public.
"Smoking is not that sexy thing it may once have been seen. Previously there was always an imbalance between the millions spent advertising smoking and the many fewer millions to promote the anti-smoking message. We now need to see people like prominent film-stars coming out with anti-smoking messages."
Clive Bates, director of anti-smoking group ASH, said he believed the most successful aspect of the Guernsey experiment was not the higher age limit.
"I suspect raising age limits is the least successful aspect of what they have done. Increasing the age limit reinforces that idea that it is an adult product. That may well make cigarettes more attractive to young people.
"We know basically what works - you ban tobacco advertising, raise taxes, have more smoke-free areas and have a few more regulatory things like bigger warning labels on packs.
"Guernsey has done this effectively but we have not been so effective in the UK.
"The most important of the other measures is the smoke free-zones. The kind of approach that Alun Pugh has taken in the Assembly is the next step forward and could deliver fantastic results."