Smoke-Free School Policies (SFSP) are primarily designed to ensure educational spaces remain free of second-hand smoke, whilst contributing to a reduction in adolescent smoking by challenging the practice per se. Evidence regarding the latter goal is inconclusive, however, with most studies suggesting SFSPs are ineffective in reducing smoking prevalence. A dearth of qualitative research limits our understanding of why this inefficacy persists and how it might be addressed. This paper addresses this lacuna through a critical discursive analysis of data from 56 focus groups, generated with adolescents across 17 schools in seven European cities. It reveals that, while smoking is banned on school premises in most European countries, young people experience wide variation in implementation. Despite this, participants framed SFSPs in remarkably similar ways. Among young people most likely to smoke, representations of SFSPs often undermined their efficacy, leading to the displacement of smoking (outside the school grounds) rather than a reduction in prevalence. We argue that, policy effectiveness could be improved if schools worked collaboratively with students to develop positive collective beliefs and understandings about SFSPs, but caution realism about the potentially limited power of schools to reduce adolescent smoking prevalence.
- smoke-free policy