As anyone who has ever parented headstrong teen-agers knows, it is not effective to simply order them to act or behave in ways the parent might want. The teen might grudgingly respond, but such a relationship leads to resentment and disaffection.
There are signs that state leaders trying to keep young people from taking up smoking and getting those who smoke to stop are coming to understand that.
Mary Sheehan, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's community health services division, said last week the department must steer away from traditional messages about ill effects of smoking. Teens understand smoking is unhealthy and will eventually kill, yet a third of Minnesota teen-agers still smoke.
Instead, health officials are countering tobacco advertising with campaigns that play to teen-agers' aversion to manipulation and authority. That includes ads drawing on internal tobacco company documents highlighting methods used to get and keep younger smokers.
As Sheehan said, "Nobody really likes to be manipulated."
Yes, and that applies double to teen-agers who have a keen sense of the hypocritical and the phony. It can only be hoped they don't regard this tack as manipulation.
Anti-smoking groups will have plenty of opportunity to experiment with ways to discourage smoking among the young. The Minnesota Legislature has set aside funds from the state's $6.1 billion settlement with the tobacco industry for an intensive prevention campaign, but it wants to see results within five years.
A report released last week said one in three Minnesota high school students use tobacco; the Legislature wants that cut to about 25 percent by 2005.
That's a worthy effort, especially since it's financed by the tobacco industry itself. The optimism of a decade ago when Minnesota launched its effort to have the state be smoke-free by the year 2000 has long-since given way to a more realistic approach: keep at it, using every means possible to discourage young people from starting or getting them to quit -- and settling for a few percentage points at a time.
--Duluth News Tribune
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