Preventing teenagers from picking up smoking

Yesterday, I think I have successfully convinced a teenager who had started "casual' and "occasional" smoking with her peers to quit this very bad habit right now when the addictive effects have not yet completely kicked in.

I have a good, healthy teacher-student relationship with this teenager and she trusts me. That's why when I found out that she occasionally smoked with her friends, I had the opportunity to have a long chat with her, explaining the very real dangers of smoking. Besides the obvious, I highlighted some key facts to encourage her to refuse every single cigarette that might be offered to her:

1) I told her about the well documented but little known fact that cigarettes are radio-active! I first learned about it about 1 year ago, and that claim was too shocking for me to trust my own memory, so we spend some time browsing the internet, looking for articles that demonstrated in no uncertain terms that tobacco is indeed radioactive! Smoking one and a half pack a day is equivalent of having 300 chest X ray a year. Radioactivity, rather than tar, is believed to be the cause of lung cancer in smokers. It is really shocking to see that this is not yet a common knowledge. There should be a prominent 'radioactive' warning on each pack of cigarette. I also resent the 7/11s and every other chain of convenient stores who are part of the conspiracy of racking up a profit from people's unhealthy addictions.

2) I explained the highly addictive nature of smoking. We spent some time discussing people in our entourage who are a bit older (in their 20s, 30s or even older), who now regret of having taken up the habit, and who are desperately (and unsuccessfully) trying to quit smoking. Once she starts smoking, it's very hard to stop.

3) The best way of getting rid of a bad habit is not to pick up that bad habit in the first place. Now is the best time for her to decide not to smoke. At all!

4) We discussed the peer-pressure mechanism which causes teenagers to start smoking. Most if not all smokers started smoking because of peer-pressure. A teenager wants to feel that he belongs to the group and abhors the idea of being the odd-one out. 1 So, an important part of what I was trying to achieve during our chat was to explain how peer-pressure works and give her enough understanding so that she has the strength to refuse that kind of pressure and thus avoid the long term negative consequences.

5) Not only we discussed the health consequences of smoking, we also discussed the financial costs. Drug dealers most of the time offer free hard drugs to kids in the streets, not out of generosity, but because they hope to gain a long term customer once the kid is suitably addicted. The tobacco industry is basically doing exactly the same but in a legal way: they promote smoking via advertising and subtle product placements in teen media, hoping to gain life-long customers.

6) Smoking kills. It's a well known fact. But it kills slowly. We live in the democratic Republic of China where the Death Penalty is a currently hotly debated topic. We discussed the hypocrisy of the death penalty supporters. They seem to care very much about the fact that a young boy was brutally murdered this year but they don't seem to care about the tens of people who die every single day in traffic-related incidents and also from smoking-related illnesses, both of which could be prevented (I am a proponent of car-free cities, especially in a country with a high population density). Tobacco industries can legally kill thousands of people because their victims take decades to die and pay to their murderers the price of their daily packs of cigarettes for the privilege of being killed little by little.

7) This point is maybe the most important. I did my best to highlight the excuses, the lies, that teens tell themselves. We discussed all the excuses people might tell themselves to justify smoking: "I don't smoke much", "I smoke only once in a while, when I am with some friends", "I smoke only when I feel stressed", etc. Those are plain lies along the lines of the so many lies we all tend to tell ourselves. I warned her not to use such lies as excuses when she's tempted to give in to her friends. This is a very slippery slope and she might be much closer to the point of no-return than she might think!

Anyway, after a long chat, I believe that she understood my point. She promised me that she wouldn't smoke any single cigarette any more. I hope and I believe that she really won't. I told her that if she indeed successfully avoids the traps of peer-pressure, a few years from now, she will look back at this conversation and be grateful to me for being there to inform her at a critical time.

Now, the reason why I post this at Overshoot TV is because I'd like to transpose most of the above into an open source documentary created with Blender and aimed at teenagers in order to prevent them from picking up smoking.

Since I am not myself very talented and not very proficient at creating video animations, I'd like to start with something very simple: mostly a text-based, 2D animation. But then the video will be open-sourced, using the video-wiki model so that interested parties can chip in a bit of their time and their talent for a worthy project.

If you'd be interested in contributing some of your talent and time to this animation project, please register at overshoot.tv and over the coming weeks and months, watch the following project home page:
http://overshoot.tv/project/issues/dont_start_smoking

  • 1. This reminded me of the movie "The Postman" with Kevin Costner, which I watched again recently. There is one feeble-minded character in the movie who is, together with Costner's character, forcibly enrolled in some violent militia. While the latter wants to escape, the former wants to stay because it gives him a sense of belonging to a group, whatever atrocities that group might be committing.