No teenagers in Europe smoke less than young Norwegians, according to a new survey, and the number of Norwegian youth who’ve even tried smoking has taken a dive over the past 20 years. Researchers link the decline to everything from strict anti-smoking regulations to high tobacco prices, health and fitness concerns and a new form of youthful rebellion.
“They see that their own parents and even grandparents may still smoke or drink, so they won’t,” one Norwegian researcher told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday morning. He suggested it’s just the opposite of how teens in earlier generations smoked and drank in part to irritate parents who didn’t.
No longer ‘cool’
One thing is clear: “It’s not cool to smoke any longer,” Elin Kristin Bye, a researcher at Norway’s public health institute (Folkehelseinstitutt) told NRK. “Youth today also have a much greater focus on their physical fitness, health and presentation at school. That can be part of the reason.”
Results of the survey from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) showed that nearly 70 percent of 15- and 16-year-olds questioned in 2015 claimed they had never even tried smoking. That compares to just 30 percent in 1995.
While the use of chewing tobacco has risen since Norway banned smoking in restaurants, offices, on board public transport and in other indoor public places, Bye noted that it’s also now on the decline.
‘Ugly and stinky’
The survey showed that the portion of 15- and 16-year-old Norwegians who smoke daily was the lowest of all other European countries, at just 2 percent. Bye attributes the low numbers to the overall decline in smoking among Norwegians and the waves of anti-smoking campaigns and restrictions since the late 1990s.
Runar Døving, a professor of marketing at Kristiania College in Oslo, agreed that smoking is no longer cool among Norwegian youth, but he offered other reasons. In addition to the new form of youthful rebellion against smoking the success of anti-smoking regulations in Norway, he said the days of the old tobacco company marketing campaigns that glorified smoking are long gone.
“Now smoking has become ugly and stinky, and those of us who continue to smoke are viewed as losers,” Døving told NRK. He also said that the sight of smokers huddled outside bars or restaurants, especially in the winter cold, is “riduculous” to many young Norwegians.
The fact that a pack of cigarettes can now cost more than NOK 100 (USD 12) in Norway, because of punitive taxes, also acts as a deterrent, Døving said. Tobacco products have also been hidden away in nearly all retail establishments, customers must specifically ask for them and packaging is plain except for the health hazards emblazoned on them.
“All research shows that accessibility and price are central means of hindering consumption,” Døving said, “and when you also limit the areas where smoking is allowed, there’s a physical hindrance.”
Mia Granly, a 17-year-old student at Hartvig Nissens high school in Oslo, told NRK that she and her friends simply find cigarette smoke irritating. “I think very many young Norwegians don’t smoke because we know how damaging it actually is for your body,” Granly added.
There are still those who smoke at parties, she said, and two 18-year-old fellow students admitted they like to smoke as a means of relaxing. “But there aren’t many who smoke all the time,” Granly told NRK. The survey’s statistics suggest it’s simply not fashionable.