; Youth Work Priorities

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The latest estimates suggest 13,000 young people take up smoking in Scotland each year. That’s 36 young people every day.

While it is encouraging that the majority of young people today are smoke-free (2% of 13 year olds & 7% of 15 year old are regular smokers) smoking rates are disproportionately high amongst certain groups of young people, including care experienced young people and young offenders. Most smokers still take up smoking as a young person. Around two thirds of smokers in the UK started smoking under the age of 18 and over a third (40%) started under the age of 16.   

The factors that push young people to smoke, and the protective factors that discourage it, are closely linked to social and economic circumstances and as such it looks less like a lifestyle choice and more like part of the challenges facing disadvantaged young people. So we understand why smoking rates are three times higher in the most deprived communities, even though these groups are just as likely to say they want to stop (68% of smokers say that they want to quit).

Even if the young people you work with are currently smoke-free they may be still be at risk of becoming a smoker. Smoking rates continue to rise from age 15 into the 16 – 24 age group (14% of 16 – 24 year olds are regular smokers). This is a time of increased responsibility and freedom with the added pressure of becoming a young adult.  Youth work organisations and youth workers have a vital role to play in supporting and nurturing young people to make healthy life decisions as they make the transition into adulthood, employment, training and further education.

Health behaviours do not exist in isolation, therefore supporting young people to navigate decisions about tobacco needs to also take account of the potential interactions between smoking and other associated issues such as mental wellbeing and physical health, finances and use of substances such as cannabis and alcohol.

We know how important protecting and promoting the health and wellbeing of young people is to the role of any youth worker. This is highlighted in the Code of Ethics for Community Learning and Development as well as Scotland’s National Youth Work Strategy, Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child.

Youth work organisations and youth workers have a duty of care (Code of Ethics 5) to the young people they support. Making practical changes to create and promote a smoke-free culture within your youth organisation will directly benefit the young people, youth workers and your organisation contributing to the Scottish Government’s vision for a tobacco-free generation.

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