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Cigarettes | Smoking on camp

This "essay" comes from Maik Riecken, composer and webmaster of who gave us his kind permission to use the text.

This article is written from a German point of view and is based on German law which means that no youths under the age of 16 years are allowed to smoke in public. In other countries, there are other laws governing the purchase of cigarettes or nicotine consumption relating to children and youths. For this reason, you should apart the contents of this text to suit your own laws and regulations. However this article deals more with the position a youth leader should take, when children or youths suddenly come to the group or to a camp with cigarettes or sneak away to smoke in secret.

The subject "smoking" is also a subject which we come across in the boy’s group and of course, on holiday camps. How should we deal with this? How can the "non"-smokers be protected? Should smoking be banned in general?

What does the legal situation look like and is it worth turning a blind eye?

My glorified view

Fags are often a disturbing factor in youth work. Sometimes it is the 12 or 13 year old participants who want to be “cool” and take themselves off into the woods in the dry summer high. Sometimes it is the members of staff, who always take a deserved (?) break every now and again and stretch out the cigarette breaks, because after all, smoking encourages social interaction.

Smoking is, all in all, a painful subject and offers the opportunity to discuss and introduces the most strangest of arguments from people who are usually decent... Well how should an unknowing non-smoker be able to go at the subject without prejudice? I will fall back on an old rhetorical trick:

I’ll start with the prejudices about smokers! Smokers are:

  • Generally inconsiderate of non-smokers
  • Can always be found in hoards in the smoker’s corner
  • Potential candidates for lung cancer
  • Not environmentally aware when they get rid of their stubs
  • A burden on the health service
  • Were not breast fed as babies
  • Horrible to kiss
  • Always take smoking breaks
  • Tax payers and have enough money
  • Not prepared to take part in an objective discussion
  • A seduction for every child
  • ...

Yes, and the non-smokers? Those are nice people! We have our crux of the matter there. As an exemplary youth leader, you should always have the interests of the participants in view – and the smoke somehow disturbs this! Lots of the prejudices named above often come up again and again in tough discussions, where a tough stand is taken instead of seriously trying to find a solution.

Under 16 year old participants and smoking

The simplest thing to do in this situation is to hide behind the famous paragraphs of the youth protection laws which forbids the youths from smoking in public. The results are quite often nightly stalking scenes in the woods and trips to the neighbouring village which are not permitted. The dilemma is: You cannot allow the participants to smoke, although the legal experts cannot agree on whether a camp is a “public” event or not.

Apart from the legal requirements there is another, much more important reason, why I commit myself to speaking about smoking with this age group: At a later date, I would find it difficult to accept that youths had started to smoke on my camp. I am not worried whether certain participants are allowed to smoke because they are older. However they potentially endanger others with their fags, in such a special situation as a holiday camp. What should we do?

I carried things out in the following way: If possible, I organise a pre-camp meeting in which I clearly explain my opinion on the smoking subject in this age group (however you should not organise a meeting just to hand out the restrictions, this only spoils things). I always give the participants the opportunity to drop out if they are not prepared (or are not able?) to give up the fags for this time. I would even go as far as to ask for a hand signal if someone cannot accept the rules I impose. There will generally be no need to shy away from a discussion because the legal guidelines are always a deadly argument in an emergency. I would always present the ones involved with the danger they cause to others. It is important that you make a clear pact with the participants, which you can always come back to and refer on the camp. I have never gone as far on a camp, as to send someone home for disobeying the rules. In my experience it is very important, especially in the first few days, to really enforce the rules and to give the youths few opportunities to “sneak off” into the woods. This means stress, pure stress but it is worth it, in my experience. I would not have any hang-ups about confiscating any cigarettes or other objects because the buying power of the participants is generally weak.

If the situations keep arising, I would always recommend a talk and not just with “the villains", but with the whole group together or whoever is effected (that is stress, pure stress – for the participants). These measures should be sufficient in almost all cases...

16 year old participants and smoking

It now becomes really exciting, because there are no longer any laws to hide behind. Therefore, I can only speak from my experience and about myself. It is my opinion that smoking is an (expensive) addiction, which cannot be encouraged in the slightest by me, as a youth leader. In my experience the following problems can (!) come about with smokers as participants:

  • "Hanging out" with like-minded in the smoker’s corner
  • This leads to the splitting up of the group
  • The direct environment is dirtied by cigarette ends
  • They can encourage others to start smoking
  • They make forbidden journey into the nearby villages to buy cigarettes
  • Sometimes leads to stealing cigarettes and money.

On our large summer camps, we come across these problems because we connect smoking with sanctions. Smoking is only allowed in certain areas, where a maximum of 3 people are allowed to stand at one time, whether they are smoking or not. Members of staff are also included in this rule! (There is however a central place where only staff members are allowed to smoke – groups are allowed). There are only exceptions to the rules if we take part in a day trip and if the rules are agreed in advance. Due to our staff structures, we have a relatively good chance of enforcing these rules.

Obviously it now sounds as if we discriminate against smokers. However it does have a relevant reason: parents trust us with their children in the belief that they are well cared for on the camp.

I find it important for the children and youths to find out that smoking is an addiction which leads to certain disadvantages in life. In everyday life, smokers are seen to be "cool" and relaxed. The disadvantages of this addiction seem to disappear in the general social recognition. Through a set of rules of this type, the disadvantages are pushed back into consciousness: Certain people "need" their fags at regular intervals. Certain people cough a bit strangely in the mornings etc. Even the smokers themselves make a few thoughts about their behaviour, even if it’s only a few.

Moreover, you will avoid training participant hordes in the smoking areas and avoid the contamination of the environment with dumps (the smoking areas must be kept clean by the smokers themselves). At least the introduction to smoking is made more difficult.

We have had really good experiences with these methods. The main condition is that the members of staff are all on the same course. I cannot guarantee you an end to the whingeing about the rules, but you can nevertheless enjoy this indication of tender beginnings of personal self reflection every now and again.

In my experience, working with smokers as members of staff is not so easy. In staff workshops and training days, they often agree that smoking is not good for children and youths and that we have to deal with the problem on camps by imposing "rules". However, wherever possible, these rules should not apply to the smokers themselves. An important argument always crops up again and again: I should not hide my own addiction from the children and if someone asks me about it, I will take them to one side and tell them how addicted I am and how I ill I feel. Anyway, it would be false to try and hide my addiction in some way. This is a true word and I cannot say much against it.

In my opinion, the following principle always belongs to being authentic: The same, or at least similar, rules for everyone. I either mean it seriously with my desire to be a role model to children with reference to smoking and my accept my personal restrictions or I am aware that I am taking the risk of being a bad example, where even repeated warnings about the dangers of smoking will not change much.

MacGyver always say it so wonderfully: There is a reaction to every action. I can not imagine that the reaction to a member of staff, who wanders across the camp with a fag in his hand, will be a preventative effect (but I am open to being shown different).

As a youth leader, you have to sometimes be prepared to accept limits on your own personal freedom for the sake of the participants. Our smokers among the members of staff have voluntarily adhered to certain rules. The following rules apply:

  • We will not smoke in areas where lots of participants are present
  • Every smoker must try, wherever possible, to agree (if necessary) on his smoking breaks with others effected by them
  • Cigarette stubs will not be thrown on the ground
  • We will not smoke during important points in the program (bible work, sports games, interest groups, adventure games).
  • We will consider non-smokers

These things should actually be taken for granted, but we have even written this in a report. Our smokers have slowly got used to the evil non-smokers and now support the action, but are maybe only 75% behind it.

Source: Supplied to with kind permission from Maik Riecken ( Translated into English by Praxis-Jugendarbeit. The text is based on German law but is bound to contain one or two tips on the correct way to deal with the subject. You should be aware of the youth protection laws in your own country. Any youth leaders who are unsure about how to handle the subject should seek advice. A clear position is very important.

On Maiks website you will find further themes, tips and ideas for youth work as well as an extensive list of links to collections of games, devotions, laws, camps, camping sites etc. (all in German language). If the above text has helped you in any way, Maik would be pleased to receive any (us too, of course).

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