Smoking cessation among youth and young adults

As this month’s theme is Smoking Cessation and Behavior Change, and Stoptober is almost half way, we want to give you an overview of what is out there to help youth and young adults quit smoking.

The short and alarming answer is: NOTHING. In the Netherlands there is no evidence-based intervention available to help youth and young adults quit smoking. Internationally there is some evidence for a few interventions, but those often suffer from poor methodological design and only find small, and short-term effects on behavior. For a long time researchers believed that interventions for adults would work evenly well for youth and young adults, now we know that this is most often not the case. But also interventions specifically tailored to youth and young adults do not seem effective in helping them to change their behaviors. In the GEMH-lab we believe that a change in perspective is needed to make a start in solving this big problem: who are the people these interventions are designed for and what do they need to help them successfully?

When reviewing the interventions out there and talking to young smokers, three main problems come up: 1) Most interventions are developed from a "you have a problem and I as an adult can help you" perspective. However, this paternalistic perspective ensures that young people do not feel they have the autonomy to change their own behavior. 2) The social component in the emergence and maintenance of smoking behavior is crucial for young people. Smoking is not an independent, and individual behavior, but is tremendously connected to their entire social life. Few or no interventions include a social component, often because it is very complicated. 3) Most interventions are didactic, not challenging in the right way, stigmatizing and not fun for young people. Adults have the capacity to do things that they do not like for a bigger purpose, young people have a lot more trouble with that.

To deal with these problems, we should first and foremost connect with the people for whom we want to develop this intervention, think with them and build a relevant intervention together. Furthermore, we as the GEMH-lab think video games can help build that solution: 1) The game context is a place for young people to experiment with feelings of freedom of choice and autonomy without the influence of parents or teachers. 2) From the paternalistic perspective, games are often dismissed as antisocial. However, it appears from conversations with young people that they do not distinguish between online friends and offline friends. In other words, games are mostly social and young people see playing games as an extension of their social lives. Finally, 3) Games are often attractive, challenging but not too difficult, non-stigmatizing and fun. Additionally, games are also the ideal vehicle for training certain behaviors. In the GEMH-lab we have developed a game that aims to train youth’s self-control and capitalizes on the social aspects within peer groups. Currently we are testing this game to find out whether it is effective in helping youth quit smoking. To be continued…

If you want to know more about smoking cessation among youth and young adults and GEMH-lab’s perspective on this, you can read these two blogs written by Hanneke (unfortunately only in Dutch).    


Hanneke Scholten
Co-Director of GEMH Lab

Researcher, interdisciplinary work and collaboration, wants to understand the how's and why's, loves her high heels and coffee in the morning, walks and talks too fast.


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