How Many People Smoke?
Fact, perception and social norms

 

In 2013 we asked students at a Central Coast high school to estimate smoking rates.

 

 

 

 

 

Ten years earlier in 2003 we had asked students at the same school to estimate smoking rates.

Teenagers mistakenly believe that smoking is a common adult activity. In 2003 the students grossly overestimated the true percentage of smokers in the community. The actual adult smoking rate was 22.1%. In 2013 the students still overestimated but by even more as the true adult smoking rate had declined to 14.7%1.

According to Social Norms Theory people are inclined to behave in a way that they believe is the norm for their society. Some teenagers view smoking as a way to demonstrate their maturity as they perceive that smoking is a common adult activity.

We also asked the students to estimate teenage smoking rates.

 

2013 student estimates of teenage smoking rates

 

 

 

 

 

2003 student estimates of teenage smoking.

Students grossly overestimated the percentage of teenage smokers too. The actual smoking rate for Australian teenagers in 2013 is approximately 6.6%2. In 2003 it was about 13%3.

The belief that most teenagers smoke creates a non-existent peer group. If teenagers believe that most adults and teenagers smoke, they are creating a social norm that does not exist.

All the students interviewed in 2013 had a negative view of smoking, especially around children.

 

 

Question: "Is it OK with you if people smoke in their own home?"

 

 

 

Question: "Is it OK with you if people smoke in cars?"

 

 

 

 

Question: "Is it OK with you if people smoke outdoors at railway stations?"

 

 

 

Question: "Is it OK with you if people smoke outdoors at restaurants and cafes?"

 

 

 

Question: "Do you think smoking is cool? Why?"

References

  1. NSW Adult Population Survey (SAPHaRI), Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health.
  2. Australian secondary school student's use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011. Report prepared for the Drug Strategy Branch, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Cancer Council Victoria. Melbourne,2012
  3. The Health Behaviours of Secondary School Students in NSW 2002, NSW Department of Health.


 

 

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