Peer education

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What works with college age students?

There is currently little evidence around which interventions work best for preventing smoking among young people aged 16-19. The vast majority is for younger, school aged children. In this group, evidence suggests that as part of a whole settings approach, peer-led interventions have a role in helping to prevent young people from smoking. NICE Guidance for Smoking Prevention in Schools found that approaches led by young people, nominated by the students themselves can be effective.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the best way to educate young people about smoking is to use ‘social influence’. This approach assumes that most young people misperceive their peers' behaviour. This means that they either significantly ‘under’ or significantly ‘over’ estimate the amount a behaviour takes place or how much approval it receives. In the case of smoking, this would mean significantly over-estimating the number of other young people who smoke and attributing far more peer approval associated with it than actually exists.

The social norms approach seeks to change misperceptions amongst young people. For example, it may help to emphasise that the social norm is not to smoke or that most people want clean air. This can involve young people carrying out insight and surveys with fellow students and then highlighting the norm through social media campaigns and other appropriate approaches.

What are the benefits of carrying out some peer-led, social norm approaches to smoking in college?

  • It makes it clear that students have a role in influencing what happens in their college
  • It emphasises the importance of caring for each other and protecting health
  • It allows students the freedom to be creative and deliver messages in a way that is more likely to be well received by their peers
  • It allows students to identify topics that are important to them, rather than adults in authority
  • Developing and delivering initiatives is a useful experience for the workplace and uses many transferable skills
  • Work for developing interventions can often be included as part of other subject areas, e.g. Health and Social Care Courses or Extended Project Qualifications
  • It helps students take ownership of their smokefree site
  • The vast majority of work is undertaken by pupils themselves

What are the disadvantages of peer-led approaches?

  • The college should take a hands-off approach and have a degree of open-mindedness about what the students produce. It is fair to set clear guidelines about what is acceptable from the outset but would be unfair to let students develop a campaign and then to not allow its use
  • Although student-led, there still needs to be a member of college staff who has oversight of the campaign to ensure that the information provided by students is factually correct
  • There may be some small costs associated with it to enable students to be creative
  • Students need to be allowed the time and space to undertake the project
  • Time and effort may be required to showcase the outcomes

What initiatives could students undertake?

The scale and level of initiative will be dependent on the time and support available at the college. However, some suggestions are below:

Student-led Social Norms Task 1 – Students develop and undertake a survey with peers to find out how much/how often young people in their college smoke. They then publicise the results within college, presenting the students with the fact that the vast majority of young people do not smoke.

Student-led Campaign Task 2 - Students identify a misconception/myth that is common amongst their peers, research the facts and communicate this in a manner that is engaging for their peers.