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Do You Have a Nico-Teen?

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Do You Have a Nico-Teen?

Why kids still want to smoke.
Ben  Fletcher
Ben Fletcher More by this author
May 30, 2011 at 10:00 AM

When I was about 12, my brother had some friends around for a party. His friends were all around 14 or 15 and, I thought then, the height of coolness. Cool by my standards meant they had acne, the latest Beatles record and a vocabulary of rude words. None so cool, though, as the one who brought along his sophisticated girlfriend. Except, when I looked closer, she was actually Sylvia Mellors, a girl in my year at school. There was Sylvia, looking nothing like a schoolgirl but resplendent in make-up, a miniskirt and – God forbid – nylon stockings! I withdrew farther into the corner where I’d been reading my comic book and – seeing those nylons again – tucked my feet under me to hide the regulation school socks that I realized, to my horror, I was wearing.

Then, it happened.

Sylvia Mellors might just as well have taken out a sign that said, “I am the coolest Miss Cool since cool was invented” (except we probably would have used the word groovy then), because she took from her elegant gold clutch bag … a CIGARETTE.

My tiny jaw, still fresh from thumb-sucking, must have hit the floor and my pigtails stood on end as I watched, entranced, as her BOYFRIEND (who was a boyfriend, I tell you, not a friend who was a boy) leaned over, flicked a lighter and lit her cigarette for her. She inhaled. I could have eaten my bobble hat. I was transfixed.

I had just witnessed the most classy act any human being could perform. Yes, you see, I was growing up and my impressionable, naïve, adolescent brain with its identity-seeking sensors was frantically at work.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I accepted a puff of a cigarette from another “cool” girl at the local youth club, but the “smoking is hip” message had been firmly imprinted on my brain. And the impression was far, far stronger than any of the anti-smoking messages which were around at the time.

Because the main drivers of the adolescent brain are not “Think of the future, live longer, live healthier.” The adolescent brain is marinated in sex hormones that scream, “Think of now, appear cool, have an identity, attract a mate and, for goodness’ sake, do try to look grown up.”

Having said that, none of us wants our own children to smoke. When adults see young kids smoking in the street, we don’t think they’re cool. I don’t know about you, but they always make me feel a bit sad, particularly the very young ones, who themselves are barely larger than a king size and who’d look more at home with a lollipop in their mouths than a cigarette. (In England almost one in ten children age from 11 to 15 admits to being a regular smoker, and the trend for children to take up smoking continues.)

I remember that first puff I took and the first cigarettes I began to sneak in afterwards. The taste was foul. I wanted to throw up. But I suppressed my gagging reflex and, beneath purple-glittered lids, eyed the admiring glances of my mates as I became one of them, one of the in-crowd. The major drivers in adolescence are acceptance by one’s peers and outright rejection of anything perceived as old and stodgy.

Parents, teachers and governments with their admonishments and advice fall firmly into the latter category. Although the National Health Service is putting huge efforts into mass media and point-of-sale measures to prevent the uptake of smoking by children, they have got their work cut out in trying to counter the incredibly powerful peer role model, or Sylvia Mellors, effect.

Without the craving relief, you see, cigarettes on their own are not the most pleasurable sensory experience. If they were, the local deli or the snack bar at the cinema would be awash with nicotine-flavored snacks or nicotine jelly sweets.

Cigarettes aren’t tasty because toxins taste disgusting and the manufacturers can only go so far in disguising this. And the poor, deluded, hoodwinked, addicted brain has learned to override this just to get its fix. Sad.

Fortunately, both Ben and I gave up smoking early on in life. Not so a friend of ours, James, a lawyer who has smoked for 30 years. He claims he’s trying to cut down, but is also adamant he doesn’t want to stop smoking. “I love smoking,” he told us recently, “It gives me so much pleasure. I’ve got to die of something, so why should I give up?” At that moment a squeal came from the garden as his eight-year-old son caught a ball his friend had thrown.

“So when will you be encouraging Max to start smoking?” I asked. “What?!” James spluttered. He found the question ludicrous. But it demonstrates that even the most ardent fans of smoking don’t truly and honestly believe their own PR. You never hear them say, “My kids have got to die of something, so why shouldn’t they smoke?”

About Author
Ben  Fletcher
Karen Pine and Ben (C) Fletcher are both professors of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, UK and renowned experts on behavior change. Their Do Something Different technique has had a huge success in helping people lose weight, tackle st Continue reading