The SLO City Council is considering an ordinance to ban tobacco use in all public spaces. Among the many reasons to support this ban, the issue of social norms regarding youth and smoking is paramount.
Every day, 4,000 American children begin smoking. In fact, 90 percent of all adult smokers started while in their teens or earlier; two thirds became daily smokers before they were 19 years old. Research shows that adult smoking behavior greatly influences youth smoking behavior. When young people see adults smoking and chewing tobacco in family areas—our parks and playgrounds (such as Mitchell Park), our downtown, and events (such as Farmers Market and Mission Plaza celebrations)—the message is sent that the use of tobacco products is an acceptable, popular practice. Research repeatedly shows an overwhelming number of smokers wish that they did not smoke, and it is easier to prevent people from starting to smoke than to quit the addiction.
Bans can reduce youth tobacco use by up to 40 percent. In light of these findings, it is incumbent upon us as community health advocates to change social norms so that our children do not recognize tobacco use as an acceptable behavior