Ethical issues

Risk of negative peer pressure from non-smoking pupils towards smoking pupils

Since SFC aims to create a class climate that denormalises smoking, doubts were raised whether it increases bullying or perception of isolation. Three studies in Germany, Switzerland and Wales were conducted on this topic:


In Germany, a cluster randomised controlled trial with two waves of assessment directly before the start and immediately after the end of the prevention programme was conducted. 3123 students provided data from both waves. To test the hypotheses that participation in the competition might foster bullying, students’ self report of (1) being victimised, (2) engaging in bullying and (3) being isolated was measured. Results indicated a strong association between daily smoking and higher odds of bullying others at baseline. No significant pre-post differences across treatment assignment groups were found on any bullying measure. For being isolated, the trends suggested that the programme, if anything, fostered lower levels of isolation at follow-up, especially for those who perceived high levels of isolation at baseline. Therefore, participation in the intervention had no effect on bullying or perceptions of isolation.

In a representative population based sample of 6,887 Swiss students and 440 teachers there was no difference regarding violence among classes participating in SFC and non participating classes. The study even indicated the contrary: Classroom climate was better in classes participating in SFC than in non-participating ones.

In a study with 2,695 pupils from Wales 33.6% in the SFC group reported to have been victims of bullying, compared to 38.4% in the comparison group.

How to prevent bullying

Several measures have been implemented to prevent negative peer pressure in the competition, such as a) a small percentage of pupils is allowed to smoke during the competition in most countries, b) creative classes can get prizes even if they drop out from the competition and c) clear instructions for teachers that bullying is not acceptable.

Biochemical validation of smoking status

Biochemical validation might create a climate of distrust. The idea of the competition is to motivate the pupils to be truthful without being controlled. Therefore, none of the European Member States partners in the Smokefree Class Competition has ever applied non-voluntary tests of salivary cotinine to detect tobacco use. CO-measurement as a “bogus pipeline” has been applied on random basis in a few countries.