An anti-smoking program directed at teenagers is going high-tech to take its message beyond billboards and television spots.
The program hopes to reach high school students through a Web site loaded with animation, streaming video, music, and other multimedia.
Sixteen Houston public high schools have piloted the doctor-created program, called Project ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience), for two years. Preliminary results show that 2 percent of the students who used the program started smoking within 18 months, compared with 6 percent of their peers who had received only a self-help smoking-prevention booklet, said Dr. Alexandre V. Prokhorov, the lead researcher for the study and a professor in the behavioral-science department at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s School of Health Sciences at the University of Texas at Houston.
“We tried to make this [Web site] as teen-friendly as possible,” he said. “It’s really interactive.”
The site, www.mdanderson. org/departments/aspire, can be integrated into health education classes. It features an animated teenage host and video-game-like components, shows video interviews of teenagers who have quit or are trying to quit smoking, and offers ways to combat withdrawal symptoms and deal with stress, which can trigger a desire to smoke—all set to a pulsating backbeat.
The Web site also gives smoking-related statistics that may interest young people. For instance, cigarettes made out of organic tobacco, which some teenagers think of as a healthy alternative, actually contain as much as, or even more, tar and nicotine as non-organic cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association.
Tobacco use among high school students has dropped in recent years, from 34.5 percent in 2000 to 28.4 percent in 2002, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta.
The Web site, curriculum, and research study was financed by a $2.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute and a $75,000 grant from the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research.