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Say 'No' to Smoking by Saying 'Yes' to Planning

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A hand holding a cigarette


Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the Western world, and yet 25% of American teenagers have taken up tobacco.


Developing specific ways to refuse cigarettes helps teens resist the peer pressure to smoke.


Health psychologists Mark Conner and Andrea Higgins randomly assigned 1,551 11- and 12-year-old students from England to two different conditions. In the treatment condition, participants read ten facts about the short-term harms of smoking and then committed not to smoke. Afterwards, researchers showed them five concrete ways to refuse a cigarette (“No thanks, smoking makes you smell bad”) and a list of locations where they could practice these strategies, such as home, school, and parties. Teenagers checked boxes to indicate which refusal strategies they would use and where they would use them.

Participants in two control conditions also read the ten smoking facts and expressed their commitment not to smoke, but they did not learn or practice cigarette-refusal strategies. Instead, they completed an unrelated task about schoolwork.

For the next two years, participants in all conditions repeated these same tasks every four months.

Four years after the start of the study, the researchers discovered that the participants who had practiced concrete strategies for refusing cigarettes smoked less than did participants in the control conditions. Breath monitors confirmed that the teens in the treatment condition had less carbon monoxide (a toxin in cigarettes) in their systems than did teens in the control conditions. 

Why This Works

Even though many teens do not want to start smoking, they often do not know how to resist peer pressure. Making and practicing specific action plans helps teenagers resist peer pressure and stick to their healthy goals.

When This Works Best

This intervention works best when teenagers already have the desire not to smoke. 

The Original Study

Conner, M., & Higgins, A. R. (2010). Long-term effects of implementation intentions on prevention of smoking uptake among adolescents: A cluster randomized control trial. Health Psychology, 29(5), 529.

In the Press

Reader's Digest "The 23 Best Ways To Quit Smoking"

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Text by Lily Zheng

Photo CC by Fried Dough