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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Friends 'persuaded us to smoke'
By Marie Jackson
BBC News

Methods for teaching children about alcohol and tobacco misuse need to be much tougher if the message is to get through, says a government advisory panel.

Aven does not drink because of her religion

But what do young people remember being taught at school - and do they think the lessons worked?

"They did show us pictures of boys and girls on drugs with their noses falling off," said Aven Kadhem, 17, of her experience of drugs education at school.

For friend Anisa, who did not want to give her full name, it was a case of learning about cirrhosis and lung cancer in science class with the social side hammered home in Personal and Social Education lessons.

Their experience though was markedly different from Braulio Da Cruz's.

The 18-year-old recalls little being taught at school but harsh words from his father about the dangers of smoking and the risk of cancer.

House parties

Kamrul Hassan, another from the group of new starters at Westminster Kingsway College in north London, remembers a visit to his previous school by a representative from Talk to Frank, a drugs helpline.

His class was warned of the cost of drugs - that they can lead to debt - as well as the physical dangers of binge-drinking and smoking.

Buying cigarettes is like buying a packet of crisps

Even at primary school, he said, he was told about the dangers of tar in tobacco clogging up the lungs.

All wise words, but how many of the warnings did they and their classmates heed?

Anisa was put off drugs by teachers, and never gets "too tipsy" on the occasional glass of Malibu, Bacardi or alcopop WKD at house parties, but smoking is a different matter.

"Buying cigarettes is like buying a packet of crisps," she said.

"Smoking is a bit bad, but I do not see it as bad. My parents smoke. I used to smoke the occasional cigarette," she said.

'Fashion statement'

Aven does not drink because of her religion but believes smoking is a huge fashion statement.

At her last school, classmates started smoking at 14 - often in the school toilets.

Part of this, she believes, is down to seeing older peers or siblings puffing away, but sometimes it is down to bullying.

Anisa explains: "You would go out the back of school and if you didn't smoke someone would say: 'Oo, are you a quitter?' and tell you to have a puff."

If you start to embarrass yourself and your friends, you have to stop
Braulio Da Cruz

Despite all the warnings Kamrul has smoked since he was 13. He agreed that in most cases, social pressures were to blame.

"I was having a lot of trouble at school. Another group of boys used to bunk off and I used to join them. There was nothing else to do."

Keen footballer Braulio said he does not go near cigarettes or drugs for the sake of his health, but does not necessarily see drinking alcohol as a problem.

"It depends how you drink. If you start to embarrass yourself and your friends, you have to stop.

"I'll have Lambrini, vodka and sometimes beer when I'm in a bad mood but I'm the kind of person that as I get drunk, I want to go to bed or go home."

Among the group, none recalled ever being asked for ID to buy cigarettes or alcohol, even when underage, nor did it seem to be an issue for any of their hard-drinking friends.

'Stop paying attention'

So what more, if anything, should schools be doing to help curb the rise in consumption?

Anisha Lakhani, 18, suggested starting the education earlier.

"I don't think primary school is too early to start," she said.

"If they can do sex education in year six then they can do alcohol abuse.

"By the time they're in secondary school, they stop paying attention," she adds.

Meanwhile Kamrul, who is keen to start his latest computing course, believes that if he had known more about how drinking and smoking would have impacted on his studies then he would never have started.

"It's about who I hang about with. If you stay at home and get your head down, you get the work done."

US drugs tsar backs pupil tests
10 Aug 06 |  Education
Schools 'must teach about drugs'
27 Jul 06 |  Education
Drugs tests in schools 'extreme'
31 May 06 |  Education


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