As many as 6,000 adolescents under the age of 18 begin smoking each day according to the American Lung Association. This figure would rise to 800,000 of teenage smokers per year. Adolescence is a period between childhood and adult life bounded to be a time of experimentation as part of the search for self-identity. Perhaps the most common reason how teenagers get addicted to smoking is peer pressure.
There are countless studies undertaken to identify the reasons why smoking is prevalent among adolescents. The co-occurrence of certain behaviors in teenagers has been proposed by Zuckerman (1979). The concept of “sensation seeking” according to Zuckerman has a behavior theory linking smoking, drinking, drug use and sexual intercourse sharing a common feature of attracting persons who score highly on a measure called sensation-seeking scale (SSS). The early results derived from SSS showed that young adults with high scores on the said scale were more likely to be smokers compared to their peer group who earned low scores.
In the early 1960s, William Mcguire published classic papers depicting that it is easy to change people’s attitudes about things accepted as true. The social psychologist coined a phrase attitude inoculation as a process of resisting strong persuasive argument by practicing how to fight off weaker versions of the same arguments. Attitude inoculation is based on an analogy between biological resistance to disease and psychological resistance to persuasion. Biological inoculation works through a developed immunity where antibodies are produced to fend off attacking agent after exposure of people to a weakened version of an attacking agent (or virus). Psychological resistance to persuasion enables people to resist stronger attacks on their attitudes by practicing on how to stave off weaker attacks.
The power of peer pressure on the attitudes of adolescents on smoking enables them to form a decision of giving in or resisting the temptation to be or not to be smokers. At the age of 15 or third year of secondary school, there should be a shift to examine and discuss the reasons why some adults smoke. Such activity should openly discuss the nature and effect of peer pressure to start smoking, the effect of an individual’s smoking uptake on forming friendship groups and building and maintaining relationships.
By the ages of 15 to 16 years old, the concept of influence of peer pressure as such having a best friend who is smoker becomes unimportant. The emphasis is focused on the account of the teenager’s own subjective experience of smoking. By subjective experience, it reports how the person relieves stress and enhanced performance on intellectual tasks. A great importance to inoculate teenagers against pro-smoking arguments, one way is to teach them to resist pressure from peers who believed that smoking is acceptable. Public service advertising campaigns is a clear example on how attitude inoculation is applied. It encourages parents to take an active role of promoting and devising strategies to say no from any peer influence persuading them to smoking. These public service programs with the whole or partial use of attitude inoculation programs have repeatedly recorded the effectiveness of attitude inoculation to prevent teenage smoking among other social issues like curb illicit drug use and to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Some pointers for interventions can be applied when dealing with adolescent smoking are developing school intervention programs to build courage to resist pressures to smoke just because their friends smoke. A wider perspective should be adopted when dealing with teenage or adolescence smoking. It is a symptom of adolescent unhappiness and an awareness of
developmental constraints in the case of meaningless smoking as an appetite suppressant among young teenage girls. Attitude inoculation as proposed by William Mcguire holds a promising future to dramatically reduce the rate of teenage smoking. Teenage smoking can be combated when coupled with attitude and psychological inoculation integrated into secondary schools having an academic purpose and a vehicle to promote self esteem, instill a sense of purpose, develop positive relationships with adults and enhance the developmental potentials and limitations.
American Psychological Association (2004, January 16) Attitude Inoculation dramatically reduces teenage smoking rates. Retrieved from http://www.psychologymatters.org/mcguire.html.
Byrne, D.G., Byrne, A. E. and Reinhart, M. I. (1995) ‘Personality, stress and the decision to commence smoking in adolescence’. Journal of Psychology