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The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention.

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Looking Outside the RG Sector Box

by Barry Koen-Butt, Director of Communications and Awareness Programs | Sep 28, 2012 02:25 PM

Newscan (Vol 14, Issue 38)

I was recently asked to speak to a community of practice for public health professionals whose work focuses on convincing young adults (18-34) to quit smoking – or better yet, not to start. They get together every two months via teleconference and twice per year in person to share information with other health units across Ontario in support of the Smoke-Free Ontario Strategy. At first, I hesitated because not only is RGC not in the same field, but our mission is not to encourage complete cessation of an activity, it’s about making an activity safer for people. I was worried that our differences were too great for an RG presentation to be of value to them.

The event organizer, Cynthia Neilson from Cancer Care Ontario’s Program Training And Consultation Centre, told me that the group often looks outside of public health and tobacco control to explore new ways to engage this audience. And, being flattered that they were interested in RGC after seeing our Safe or Sorry social marketing campaign, I decided it was a great opportunity to share any insights – and follow their lead by listening and learning from them, too.

The Smoking-Gambling Connection

In preparing for the presentation, I realized it would help to examine the link between our two issues. There are at least three studies that link gambling and smoking together:

  • In a survey conducted in New Zealand it was found that young adults who gambled were more likely to smoke cigarettes, and there is a direct relationship between the amount of money spent on gambling and the frequency of tobacco use (i.e., those who spend more money gambling are more likely to smoke a higher number of cigarettes) (Hayatbakhsh et al., 2012).
  • This is also true for the general adult population – daily tobacco use is very common among individuals who are pathological gamblers, and tobacco use is associated with more severe urges to gamble among this group (Potenza & Grant, 2005).
  • Being a cigarette smoker was also significantly associated with problem gambling. Among smokers, the prevalence rate of problem gambling was 1.1% compared to a problem gambling prevalence rate of 0.4% among non-smokers. This relationship was significant among men, but not among women. (Griffiths, M., Wardle, H., Orford, J., Sproston K., & Erens, B.,2010).

A Shared Conundrum

As it turns out, the co-existence of these two behaviours was only the beginning of the connection between RGC and this group of professionals. As the session progressed, one such connection became clear: the challenge of engaging a demographic that is constantly assailed with healthy living messages about drinking and driving, smoking, drug use and safe sex – among others.

Without doubt, we agreed, young adults don’t like being told what to do, and especially what not to do. But it isn’t all bad news. We also agreed that 18- to 24-year-olds are

  • self-directed
  • better equipped to capture information
  • more reliant on feedback from peers
  • more inclined to collaborate

These characteristics offer just the right starting point to develop programs to influence behaviour in this age group, as RGC has seen over the years with Know the Score (a program for college and university students), our high school dramas (where a dramatic performance helps to deliver our message to secondary students) and our social marketing campaigns, such as Safe or Sorry.

The Value of Tailoring Your Message

During our discussion, I was reminded that tapping into local and community organizations creates a whole new set of opportunities to know our audience. In Ontario, the regional structure of the healthcare system means that while the goal is similar across the province, the execution can be quite different.

This localized approach allows for tailored and creative solutions. (For example, in some northern areas of the province chewing tobacco is an issue, while in others flavoured tobacco is a challenge.) So, taking a more granular approach to their messages is one key to success. For RGC, Problem Gambling Prevention Week is one local program that includes local counseling agencies and community media in many regions of the province. The key takeaway for me is the reminder that the mobilization of communities is a highly effective way to leverage our broader-based programs.

I was also reminded of the importance of seeking insight from outside our sector. The community of organizations committed to positive change in people’s behaviour and attitudes is vast, varied and sophisticated. I look forward to more opportunities to learn from my colleagues.