Published: 06/12/2001, Volume III, No. 5784 Page 32 33

Smoking: risk, perception and policy

Editor: Paul Slovic

Publisher: Sage Publications.

ISBN: 0 7619 2381 0. 250 pages. $22. 95 paperback (Amazon:£16. 04) (Hardback available).

Reviewer Steve Crone Chief executive, anti-smoking charity Quit

Reducing the number of young people who take up smoking is one of the great challenges in the world of smoking cessation and health education.

Research on young people and smoking is still limited and little has been published to guide the practice of policy makers, practitioners and planners alike.

It was therefore with keen anticipation that I approached Smoking: risk, perception and policy, edited by American psychologist Paul Slovic.

This book aims to bring together systematically authoritative research on young people's perceptions of smoking and the many things that influence their decision to take it up - including advertising.

The book's fundamental assertion is that young people do not understand that starting to smoke - perhaps at 13 or 14 - is a far-reaching decision with implications for the years to come.

Slovic particularly wants to combat the arguments of economist Kip Viscusi, which he claims may have tacitly played into the hands of tobacco companies in the US.

In a 1992 study, Viscusi concluded that young people were already sufficiently informed of smoking risks and didn't need their awareness raised further.

In contrast, Slovic paints a picture of young people as subject to a litany of powerful forces - of which the most powerful is cigarette advertising.

He advocates a youth-centred approach to tobacco and public health policy.

QuIt is experience of working with young people - through our Break Free schools presentation programme and Quitline - is that many are not adequately informed of the risks of starting to smoke - or the difficulties of stopping.

Young people can be surprisingly receptive to health information when it is presented relevantly and excitingly, and this approach helps young people to buck the forces Slovic highlights.

The academic weight of this book is both its challenge and also its reward. It presents many useful conclusions from a number of key perspectives and a range of authors.

However, it is also written from the perspective of US public health policy and from a highly technical and statistical perspective.

Nevertheless, it provides strong evidence of the many influences that pressure young people into starting to smoke, and draws challenging conclusions on the implications for public health policy.