Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) plans to introduce a smoke-free generation (SFG) policy, alongside denicotinisation and reducing the availability of tobacco products. The SFG has a clear rationale, yet we know little about how young people, those the policy targets, perceive it. To inform policy design, communication and implementation, we explored how NZ youth perceived the SFG.
We undertook in-depth interviews with a sample of 20 youth aged 17 or 18 and explored their knowledge of the SFG, and how they perceived its individual and societal implications. We interpreted the data using a reflexive thematic analysis approach.
We identified two overarching themes. The first theme, ‘societal good and protection from harm’, reflected benefits participants associated with the SFG, which outweighed perceptions of lost freedoms. The second theme, ‘privileging personal choice’, corresponded to two small groups within the sample. The first preferred measures they considered less restrictive, such as increasing the purchase age, and some came to support the SFG as they rationalised their views. The second subgroup expressed more entrenched opposition and felt the SFG deprived them of a choice.
Young people’s deep reflection on the SFG led most to view it as liberating rather than restrictive. Communications that avoid prompting heuristic-based responses could encourage youth to reflect on the policy and elicit strong support from the group the SFG aims to benefit.