Activism prompts teen smokers to cut back on cigarettes, Stanford study finds

STANFORD, Calif. - Scare tactics and lectures don't persuade teenage smokers to change their habits, but engaging them as anti-smoking activists does, say Stanford University School of Medicine researchers.

A study involving 10 Bay Area continuation, or alternative, high schools found that among students who were regular smokers, those who engaged in anti-tobacco advocacy efforts significantly reduced their own cigarette use compared to teens in traditional drug abuse prevention classes. What the researchers found even more encouraging was that the decrease continued six months later - a rarity in the efforts to reduce cigarette use among teens.

"The real, sustained change we saw is different from most other studies on teenage smoking. In past studies where smoking behaviors changed, the effect was very transitory," said Marilyn Winkleby, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and senior author of the paper published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Smoking remains the leading cause of illness, disability and death in the United States, with adolescents being the most likely to begin using tobacco, Winkleby said. In 2001, 36 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days. That rate is closer to 70 percent at continuation high schools, which serve students who are at risk of failing or dropping out of regular school or have been removed from their school for other reasons.

Ten continuation high schools in the San Francisco/San Jose area were selected for the study, with five randomly assigned to a new anti-tobacco advocacy curriculum and the other five to an existing curriculum on drug and alcohol abuse prevention. Juniors and seniors were recruited during each of four semesters to attend a weekly class for which they received credit.

Students were surveyed

Contact: Susan Ipaktchian
Stanford University Medical Center

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