School children are to jolt friends who smoke out of the habit using a unique school plan to highlight the damage it does to the body and planet.

‘Help A Friend To Stop Smoking’ is a collaboration between QUIT, Topic of Cancer which is an education and health thinktank and Cancer Research UK. They have joined forces to face the challenge of soaring numbers of young smokers: ten per cent of 11-15 year olds will have smoked in the last week.

The plan teaches children how to offer support and effective and realistic advice to friends trying to kick the habit. It will develop listening and communication skills and coach children in how to deal with confidential subjects. The plan also suggests how to devise strategies to help smokers quit.

‘Help A Friend To Stop Smoking’ is designed to fit into a school’s curriculum as either a module in Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) or Science classes.

The plan includes the latest information about the negative effects of the tobacco industry and smoking. It covers diverse topics – from personal health issues to the economic and agricultural effects of the industry on the developing world.

Professor Anne Charlton, who is a Cancer Research UK Emeritus Fellow based at Manchester University, says: “This plan will arm children with the skills and facts to persuade their friends to kick the habit. It is imperative to ensure the truth about smoking is foremost in children’s minds when they are trying to quit.

“This will allow the facts to talk for themselves. Kids can be very effective persuaders – it will encourage positive peer pressure.”

The plan will be targeted at 13 year olds (Year 9), who are often vulnerable to the allure of smoking. Only one per cent of 11 year olds are regular smokers, but by age 15 the number soars to 23 per cent.

‘Help A Friend To Stop Smoking’ is the result of classroom projects and research originally started by Margaret Ward and her class at Ashmole School in Barnet, London. Her class learned of her efforts to stop smoking and decided that their support and help would be invaluable – it was.

She gave up and the resources they developed together are the basis of ‘Help A Friend To Stop Smoking’. Margaret joined Topic of Cancer and the materials were developed further by the education and health thinktank.

Margaret says: “This teaching resource has already taught a number of students about the perils of smoking and how to help their peers kick the habit. It helped me and has led to a number of parents also smoking their last cigarette. The project has been piloted further at our school – with excellent results.”

The plan is available from the Cancer Research UK website. QUIT will take the plan into schools as part of its Break Free programme.

Alex Frost, Break Free Manager, says: “Young people are under tremendous pressure to start smoking. This new plan and our programme will provide them with the skills to say no to this fatal habit.”

Shirley Ellenby, Topic of Cancer group member, says: “Our group has reached its target with the publishing of this plan. We hope it will dramatically reduce smoking in those schools where it is adopted.”

Pop Idol and Eurovision star Jessica Garlick, is supporting the plan. She says: “I don’t smoke myself, but watching someone I love slowly take their own life with each cigarette they smoke would make me feel useless. This is an excellent resource for children to help their classmates to stop smoking.”

Jean King, director of Education Funding at Cancer Research UK, adds: “We hope this plan will be adopted across the UK. Children in secondary school are particularly vulnerable to the allure of smoking – it is still seen as an adult habit to be aspired to. This resource makes it absolutely explicit the harm they do to themselves, those around them and the environment.”

“We must prevent any increase in smoking among teenagers and this will be an excellent method of defusing this potential cancer timebomb.”



Smoking statistics taken from the Department of Health’s “Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2000”. Research undertaken by the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational Research.

On average 330 people die every day from smoking-related disease in the UK.

Cancer Research UK is the largest independent cancer research organisation in the world and funds about two thirds of all research in the UK.

QUIT has reached over 800,000 young people with its innovative programme. QUIT’s presenters visit schools and youth clubs encouraging young people to make up their own minds and question “is smoking worth it?” Break Free also runs 6-week confidential stop smoking groups and trains professionals to run their own stop smoking groups for young people.


Topic of Cancer

The Topic of Cancer team has been working together in a voluntary capacity since 1990 to develop projects which aim to help teachers promote education about cancer and particularly to prevent smoking in young people. The first project, called ‘Topic of Cancer’, was published in 1995 and won the NHS Health Alliances regional prize. It was distributed to schools across the country.

The prize money has been used to fund the second project ‘Help a Friend to Stop Smoking’ and to provide in-service training for teachers in Barnet on cancer education.

The group consists of former and current teachers, representing all key stages, a specialist drugs youth worker, a school nurse manager and a public health specialist. It is led by Professor Anne Charlton, an international cancer education expert of the University of Manchester who spent many an evening at Shirley Ellenby’s home working on the project with the team.

The project can really claim to be the result of an effective partnership in action.

The team: Wendy Bohm, Renie Bowen, Anne Charlton, Shirley Ellenby, Angela Gartland, Lynn Harvey, Philippa Jones, Val Jones, Pat Suiter and Margaret Ward.