Botswana’s Successful Anti-Smoking Drive Comes to Kenya [analysis]

| April 29, 2015

How can we prevent young people from starting to smoke?

It’s a question to which, as the direct link between smoking, cancer and ill-heath becomes ever clearer, countries around the world are desperately trying to find the answers.

That’s certainly the case in Africa. While smoking rates in Africa remain low compared to other continents and regions, they are rising rapidly, particularly among the young.

According to recent research, there has been a 71 percent increase in the number of African teenagers who have tried smoking since 2008.

Here in Kenya, the World Health Organisation has found that fifteen percent of Kenyans aged between 13 and 15 use tobacco.

It explains why, although the prevalence of smoking among adult Africans remains the lowest in the world, it is now higher among boys and girls than in any other developing regions. In some African countries, child smokers now outnumber adult smokers.

This shocking rise is storing up huge problems for Africa.

Smoking is already the number one known cause of cancer on the continent, killing more people every day.

Unless we tackle tobacco consumption among young Africans now, estimates suggest that the number of smokers on the continent will rise seven-fold by the end of the century.

The future cost – in human lives, healthcare costs and lost economic opportunities – will be vast and will be a huge brake on our continent’s ambitions for the future.

But how do we go about reversing this worrying trend, stopping young Africans from becoming smokers? In Botswana, we have been pioneering a new approach – the SKY project – to inspire teenage girls to make the positive choice for themselves to turn their backs on smoking before they even start.

From the outset, the project took a fundamentally different approach to previous anti-smoking campaigns aimed at young people in Botswana by focusing on prevention, rather than trying to convince current young smokers to stop.

Drawing on insights from social marketing and behaviour change, we decided that the project should start with the person not the issue.

We also realised that, like young people all over the world, young people in Botswana don’t like being told what to do but want to find the right path for themselves.

We also discovered that while most of Botswana’s girls said they didn’t want to start smoking, many felt under pressure to try.

We realised that they are more likely to listen to their friends than adults, no matter how well-meaning.

So we set out to create a campaign and movement which would allow teenage girls to provide encouragement to each other to resist temptations to smoke.

When girls sign up to the project, they are only asked to take a pledge to be true to themselves.

This includes being encouraged to say no to the things that they know they are good without, including smoking.

For SKY project to succeed we knew that it would be critical to work within the social world of teenage girls – engaging with the topics, people, places and channels that make up the fabric of their daily lives – and to put the girls themselves in charge of creating the content.

The project is off to a successful start. When it was launched in February, it was the largest gathering of teenage girls ever seen in the country. Four months later, one in four teenage girls in the campaign area had joined the movement.

Where previous campaigns have failed, our project is succeeding because it has marshalled the cool factor – hip-hop stars releasing singles, hot ticket events, a glossy teen magazine, youth-led hit radio shows – to create a movement led by teenage girls that is stripping away the aspiration to smoke.

The success is also rooted in the innovative use of social media, a powerful tool that enables young people to express themselves directly in a way that traditional media doesn’t allow.

We also use Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to show young people resisting pressure, encouraging others to do the same. The group now has over 21,000 members, making it one of the most popular social media groups in Botswana.

Through this project, we are harnessing these insights and expertise to drive lasting positive change for this generation of teenage girls in Botswana.

We are now looking to use our approach and all we have learnt in other African countries to mobilise young people themselves to eliminate the cool factor tied to smoking, keeping teens from ever picking up the habit.

It is not too late to prevent Africa following the path of other continents who are now struggling to cope with an epidemic of ill-health caused by smoking.

It is a battle, for the young people themselves and for Africa as a whole, we must win.

Tsara is a partner at Dialogue Saatchi amp Saatchi, which helped to design and launch the SKY project


Kenyans smoke about 15 billion sticks of cigarette every year, according to the 2012 Tobacco Atlas

2.5 per cent of Kenyan men currently use cigarettes while only one per cent of women are smokers

At least three per cent of all deaths of men in Kenya every year is triggered by tobacco use, World Health Organisation says.

Source : The Star

Category: General

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