Copenhagen aims to stop smoking among youngsters

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Filled ashtrays at the Student House in Copenhagen (Photo: Alison Bertho)

The municipality of Copenhagen wants the city to be smoke free by 2025. One of their focuses is preventing youngsters from smoking. Collaboration, smoke free school time and denormalizing smoking is going to open up for that.

By Alison Bertho, Christoph Donauer & Mette Højmark Mikkelsen

People with cigarettes in their hands is a common sight in the Danish capital. 17 percent[1] of the citizens smoke, but the municipality of Copenhagen has launched a plan to reduce that number. The plan is called Smokefree Copenhagen, and the goal is to only have 4 percent of smokers by 2025.

In order to reach this goal the municipality has introduced different initiatives. They, for instance, try to make smoke free areas in the city, so it becomes unusual to see smokers and smoke yourself. They also have new ways to target young smokers.

Mette Gry Münchow, project manager at the Danish Cancer Association, likes the Copenhagen campaign and points out the importance of having a strong prevention plan within the municipalities.

“We need the local forces to succeed on a national level. We have to use all local forces,” Münchow says.

Münchow also suggests targeting more areas at once to make the campaign a success. She proposes higher prices of tobacco, smoke free school time and smoke free bars. As it is right now, it is legal to smoke in bars and restaurants that are under 40 square meters.

A denormalizing project
Smokefree Copenhagen’s plan will be based on dialogue and motivation of the smokers. They want to reach the smokers in new and different places – also during their time off. Part of the plan is to target places where young people gather. A collaboration with the upcoming music festival, Strøm, aims to make smoking invisible at concerts.

Münchow thinks it is important to prevent young people from smoking, and the cooperation with the youngsters is essential.

“We do not work against smokers, we work with them. You have to address the individual and the society around the individual,” Münchow says.

She believes higher prices are important, especially when focusing on children and youngsters. Laws about banning smoking at certain places is also a key element to her.

“Children should not see adults smoke. It is a denormalizing project, so you do not see smoking as an adult behavior,” Münchow adds.

We asked Copenhageners why they started smoking. Find out in our video:

Smokefree generation
A new initiative by the Danish government focuses exactly on smoking among children and youngsters. The goal is to have a smoke free generation with no underage smokers by 2030. The government wants to reach this result by, for instance, introducing smoke free school time.

It is already illegal to smoke at Danish high school areas, but the students can still smoke outside the school during their breaks.

Münchow agrees that smoke free school time can be a good way of reducing the numbers of young smokers. She adds that a ban of students leaving school area to smoke can become a Danish signature project.

“Teenagers do many stupid things, and they stop when they grow up, but smoking is an addiction. 72 percent start smoking before they are 18 years old,” Münchow says. “Even though they might stop smoking at some point, one cigarette can bring them back to their addiction.”


Boredom sparks smoking
Camilla Kjærager, project manager at Smokefree Copenhagen, says that the municipality spends time talking to the youngsters about their thoughts on how to make them stop smoking.

“That seems to be a way to go, because they prefer being asked rather than being told,” Kjærager says.

When the students were asked, most complained about the lack of alternatives to smoking during their breaks. According to Kjærager, they smoke because they are bored.

Allan Kjær Andersen, principal at Ørestad Gymnasium, does not think that students smoke because they are bored.

“They can easily find places to have fun without smoking. A culture has developed, where people think it is cozy to smoke, and it can be hard to compete with that,” Andersen says.

From a European perspective, Denmark is only number 18 of the countries with the most smokers. Check out the other countries:

Read more about Smokefree Copenhagen here.

[1] In 2013. It is the newest study.

This story is written for an audience in England and could be published in the world news section of theguardian.com