The Smoking Spectrum

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A recent Department of Health survey has revealed that  “9% of smokers said they were actively trying to give up, 17% were planning to quit, 33% were thinking about it and 41% were not thinking about it at all.”

This is a discouraging statistic for the Department of Health, and reveals some interesting developments in smoking culture. There is a perception that the overall smoking trend has decreased dramaticallly in Ireland in the past ten years, yet this is not quite the case. Smoking rates have only dropped 5% maximum in the past decade, with some variance year by year. The perception is due to the fact that smoking has become more invisible to the public eye. The key democratic 20 – 30 year olds have in some senses been most successful in kicking the habit, as the public awareness of the ill-effects of smoking have infiltrated various media advertising, coupled with the decline of tabacco advertising. Additionally, the smoking ban has halped in reducing the “social smoker” effect, and has helped would-be quitters to see it through to success. The gap that has been created by the decline in tabacco advertising has been filled with anti-smoking products – Nicorette and Nicotinell both are familiar sights on our televisions and magazines, all conspiring to get the audience off the cigarette.

It is the smokers on either end of the demographic spectrum that have seen a rise. The National Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition in 2007 found an increase in teenagers and young adults taking up the habit. It is quite possible that anti-smoking media is focusing on getting present smokers to quit, rather than educating young people about the social responsibilties that could prevent peer-pressuring. On the other side, it is harder to get the older gnerations to change their habits – advertisers know this, that is why new products are aimed at younger audiences, and older products are sold often in a way that promotes band loyalty. It is the same reason why anti-smoking campaigns ahev less effect on the older 50s; in the grand scale of things, the surgence of anti-smoking-based media may seem “faddish” or short-lived. Added to this, the memory of a smoking culture is much stronger in older generations, a memory of a time before health warnings and tobacco was as much a vice as a pint.

The future? There is a danger that youth will reclaim the cigarette for themselves. As 25 – 35 year old are convinced by campaigns of today, so will their old age be more rewarding and possibly longer. The problem will be the notable neglect of adolescent education in the problems with tabacco. This is the demographic that advertisers and campaigners should focus on. The efforts should gradually lean away from the marketable ‘quitters’ demographic and more to socially responsible preventative advertising. If not, there is danger of a cycle being put in place; for while anti-smoking compaigns focus only on the narrow audience regular media affords them, smoking culture will not be stubbed out.

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