ANTI-SMOKING ambassadors will be elected in 20 city schools as part of a trailblazing project to stop children lighting up.
The scheme, which relies on peer pressure to deter smoking, aims emulate the runaway success of a pilot in England and Wales which found that participating pupils were 20 times less likely to pick up the habit.
It is dubbed ASSIST and it is thought hundreds of teenagers could be dissuaded from sparking up as a result of the project after it emerged that more then one in ten 15-year-olds had admitted to lighting up in Lothian.
The “ambassadors” will be voted into the post through a ballot in schools with pupils asked to nominate the most influential students in their class.
They will then take part in workshops learning about the cost of smoking – to people’s health and bank balance – before spreading the message among their peers.
It is hoped the three-year project – which is also being trialled in Greater Glasgow and Tayside – could then be adopted on a national scale.
Colin Lumsdaine, senior health promotion specialist for NHS Lothian, said it was another step towards a smoke-free Lothian.
He said: “The recent figures we have on young smokers show we are heading in the right direction. If we replicate what was done down south then we stand a good chance of achieving the positive results in Lothian as well.”
The programme is backed by the Medical Research Council and National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
ASH Scotland chief executive Sheila Duffy backed the project to help cut from 40 the number of youngsters taking up smoking every day.
She said: “Education is essential, but there’s no point just telling kids that smoking is bad for them.
“So we welcome this approach, which will use effective peer education in schools to get students talking to each other about the harms caused by smoking and second-hand tobacco smoke.
“It has been shown to be successful in reducing adolescent smoking and its introduction in Lothian schools will help as we move towards out our goal of putting smoking out of fashion and making Scotland tobacco-free by 2034.”
A council spokesman said the project was one of several anti-smoking programmes aimed at ensuring youngsters were well informed about the dangers of smoking.
He said: “We will continue to work closely with Edinburgh Alcohol & Drug Partnership, NHS Lothian, police and other partners, to provide information to allow young people to make the right choices.”
If implemented throughout the UK, it is estimated that the ASSIST programme would prevent 20,000 young people taking up smoking each year.