Washington School-based programs that teach students how to resist social influences pushing them to smoke cigarettes long popular with states and more recently with tobacco companies have little effect and do not keep teens from smoking, according to a 15-year study released Tuesday.
The research, which charted 8,400 students in Washington state from third grade to after high school graduation, found that those exposed to the anti-smoking curriculum were no more likely to resist cigarette smoking than students who did not receive the almost 50 hours of training.
"We were surprised and disappointed to see it did not produce the results predicted," said Arthur Peterson, lead investigator on the National Cancer Institute-funded study undertaken by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "The message from the study is clear: We can't rely on school programs alone to keep kids from smoking."
The program studied in Washington was based on the "best practices" guidelines promoted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute. It included activities such as a paper-bag puppet play for third-graders on the dangers of secondhand smoke, role-playing for middle school students on how to turn down offers of tobacco, and for high schoolers re-enacting testimony from landmark tobacco-liability trials about the industry's attempts to conceal the consequences of smoking.
Based on earlier research, the CDC has recommended that school-based programs be done in conjunction with aggressive anti-smoking media campaigns and other community-based efforts, using funds made available through the $246 billion national tobacco settlement.