If you want to stop people from smoking, the best bet is to target them while they are young.
That’s because smoking tends to be a habit picked up in youth. If people reach adulthood without smoking, chances are they never will start. In fact, the federal Food and Drug Administration estimates almost 90 percent of adult smokers were using tobacco by age 18.
So it makes sense to get the message out to young people, in the hope they avoid taking up the habit. Presumably, it’s far easier to be a nonsmoker than a reformed one.
But how do you effectively convey to teens the dangers of harmful action in a way that will discourage them from taking up the habit? In many ways, this is a question that has haunted adults for generations. “Don’t do that,” is frequently an ineffective tactic, particular if adults aren’t practicing what they preach.
And it’s no secret that young people are lured by dangerous activities. In many circles, smoking is cool, edgy. The insistence by adults for teens not to engage in smoking can backfire.
We say this because the FDA is about to embark on a new $115 million anti-smoking campaign aimed at teens. The effort will include ads that show wrinkled skin on youthful faces and teens paying for cigarettes with teeth.
Obviously, the idea of these ads is to show that smoking takes a toll. And if young people are concerned about their physical appearance — if not their fundamental health — they ought to consider the hazards of smoking.
But will these efforts work? Will teens who see these ads get the message regarding the risks of smoking, or will they see the campaign as an attempt at manipulation?
One of the problems with smoking is that the damage it produces is not immediate. In the minds of young people, the consequences of what might happen in 20 to 30 years may not be seen as particularly important.