Young people, a target of communication strategies in their own right

Annex 3cThe history of the major communication campaigns cannot be told only by referring to the actions aimed at the wider public. Indeed, since 1976, smoking during adolescence has proved to be a key issue. As the primary targets of the tobacco industry, young people have for many years been the focus of attention: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer” (Philip Morris, 1981). Through the sponsorship of shows and sporting events, by creating new and derivative products, lobbying…, modelled on mass-marketing strategies, the tobacco companies were very quick to pull the levers which favoured the “recruitment” of teenagers. In retaliation, the legislators introduced many different measures over the years: banning the sale of packets of less than 20 cigarettes, sharp and successive rises in prices, prohibiting the sale of tobacco to under-16s in 2004, and extending this to under-18s in 2010, banning smoking in educational establishments in February 2007 and then in all public places in 2008, placing written and graphic health warnings on cigarette packets, prohibiting the sale of sweet-flavoured cigarettes, and so on. Working in parallel, prevention campaigns took on the tricky challenge of coming up with messages intended to reach this demographic, so impervious to public health messages, which were perceived as paternalistic and out of touch with an age group concerned with adolescent experimentation. This is a population group which is also complex on account of its diversity, being both “tribal and universal, individualistic and uniform, selfish and yet showing solidarity, independent and dependent with respect to the adult world, breaking and respecting rules, indeed even requiring rules”.

It is also a collective whose media diet and lifestyle are very different to those of adults. Faced with the complexity of an age at which healthy behaviour is not a priority and the distancing of risks is widespread, prevention campaigns therefore increased their approaches in order to reach the target audience of young people within the scope of the more global process of the denormalisation of smoking.

Between 1978 and 1988, communication campaigns prioritised the use of strategies to which young people were sensitive, targeting values which they considered essential, such as freedom (“A cigarette stubbed out is a little bit of freedom won” – 1978) and allure (“Smoking is not cool anymore” – 1988). In the years after the loi Evin was brought into effect, the CFES benefitted from a favourable context in which to embark on a new strategy: promoting the image of the non-smoker and speaking about the short-term risks. Through the campaign “Energy is not made to go up in smoke” (1993), this was tackled in the capacity of something “normal”: like the majority of young people, the non-smoker breaks the rules, loves music, love and sport and has already tried smoking. However, it is in deciding to quit that they demonstrate their strength and their character, and show that it is possible to find enjoyment in other things than smoking.

Thanh Le Luong
Director General at - INPES Director General

Thanh was appointed Director General of the Institut national de prévention et d'éducation pour la santé (the National Institute for Prevention and Health Education) in December 2008. As head of this public body, she is in charge of the implementation of the preventive element of the Ministry for Health’s public health plans, which is mainly illustrated by carrying out measures relating to expertise, information and communication concerning the different health risk factors (alcohol, tobacco, HIV and AIDS, nutrition, etc.), in partnership with local networks and agents in the field of health education and health promotion.

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