School-Based Smoking Reduction Failed
A $15 million Washington state program designed to teach schoolchildren how to resist cigarettes failed to reduce program participants' smoking rates, according to a report published in today's Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Experts at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center led the 14-year study, which comprised 8,388 schoolchildren and 640 teachers in 40 school districts, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The program employed the "social influences" approach to smoking reduction, in which kids, beginning in the third grade and continuing through high school, participated in classes intended to help them avoid peer pressure to smoke, to instruct them about the perils of smoking and "to provide a motivation to remain smoke-free throughout life."
According to lead researcher Arthur Peterson Jr., this approach has been the "accepted standard" among smoking-prevention researchers for more than two decades. The curriculum for the program was written by experts at the National Cancer Institute, which sponsored the study, and met CDC-recommended guidelines for antitobacco programs. However, the study found that 24.4% of girls and 26.3% of boys who participated were "daily smokers by the 12th grade," rates "almost identical" to those of students who did not take part. Calling the program a "surprise" and a "disappointment," Peterson said, "It simply didn't work."
According to University of Kentucky researcher Richard Clayton, the results of the study indicate that school-based "social influences" programs may be "flawed" or "inadequate." He said, "It is based on the idea that the smoking decision is a rational one. It may be that we've ignored emotion and put too much emphasis on the rational" (Recer, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/20). The Washington Post reports that the CDC has recommended that school-based efforts be combined with "aggressive anti-smoking media campaigns and other community-based efforts," which were not part of the Washington study. Tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson have sponsored school-based prevention programs. A Philip Morris spokesperson said the company found that a program called Life Skills Training was "most effective in reducing youth smoking." According to the Post, however, today's report states that the Washington study was "more extensive than Life Skills." Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, questioned tobacco companies' support for school-based programs. "The type of program studied here is precisely the kind which the tobacco industry has been offering as a substitute for the kind of comprehensive effort that all experts agree is necessary," he said (Kaufman, Washington Post, 12/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.