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M. D. Anderson Launches Tobacco Web Site for Teens

M. D. Anderson Launches Tobacco Web Site for Teens
Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Site Targets Youth
M. D. Anderson News Release 11/18/04

“Yeah, I smoke. So what?” says the caption underneath the animation image of an African-American girl, right arm crossed over her abdomen, left hand holding a lit cigarette, tendrils of white smoke wafting upward. 

Click on her, and a video animation of a hip-hop teen boy gives her the down-low on smoking.
“OK, so you’re really not too interested in quitting smoking, huh? OK, OK. You know what? I used to be the same as you.”

This scenario is one of five entry portals to a new teen-focused Web site developed by
Alexandre V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience) site is so teen-saavy that today’s young multimedia users may mistake it for a Web-based video game — when in reality, it’s a smoking prevention and cessation education site. ASPIRE integrates images of teens from various ethnic groups to communicate messages to help prevent youth from smoking and help smoking teens quit.

“Our goal is simple. We want to help teens stay tobacco-free,” says Prokhorov, professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and principal investigator of Project ASPIRE, the clinical trial precursor to the new Web site.

Statistics tell the story — adolescents need help to stay smoke-free.

In 2002, 25.5 percent of white high school students smoked cigarettes, followed by 20.5 percent of Hispanic students and 14.3 percent of African-American students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ASPIRE’s video game components and hip graphics help capture the elusive attention of teens, meeting them on familiar video-game turf, to deliver research-driven tobacco education.

Most adult smokers began the habit in adolescence, says Prokhorov, an expert in teen tobacco initiation and cessation. Teens are most vulnerable to tobacco advertising and other environmental influences to begin smoking, and generally intend to smoke only for a couple of years.

“Before they realize what’s happened, they’re addicted to nicotine,” he says. “They aren’t smoking to be cool anymore, but because they now crave cigarettes.”

ASPIRE began as a clinical trial to develop and evaluate a school-based, interactive multimedia curriculum of smoking prevention and cessation. 

“Student response to the program was overwhelming,” Prokhorov says. “Now that we’ve completed the study, we’re eager to let parents, teachers and, most of all, teens, know that help is available.”

ASPIRE was a National Cancer Institute-funded research program using computer-based smoking prevention and tobacco cessation education that was targeted specifically to high school students. The program was developed in collaboration with researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center Houston.

During the research study, more than 1,600 students in 16 Houston-area urban, predominantly minority high schools participated in the program, with about 70 percent of students being tracked for two years.

ASPIRE researchers assessed how much individual students smoked, whether they were thinking about starting or quitting smoking, nicotine addiction level, withdrawal and depression level. The final study results are expected in early 2005, however preliminary data is promising students reported reduced number of cigarettes smoked, stronger anti-smoking beliefs and lower temptations to smoke.

“Students at the 16 high schools were intrigued by the program, and it held their interest,” Prokhorov says. “We designed it with high-quality graphics and music that would appeal to adolescents.”

Students who were smokers were interested in all learning tracks of the program, he says. Many student participants, even non-smokers, said they would recommend the program to friends and even family members.

ASPIRE, one of about 20 tobacco research studies at M. D. Anderson, is online.

Dude, you gotta check it out. This site rocks.

Tobacco and Teens

  • Tobacco use among high school students declined from 34.5 percent in 2000 to 28.4 percent in 2002 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Cigarette smoking declined in each grade for 8th–12th-grade students between 2002 and 2003. This follows several years of gradual decreases in cigarette smoking that began in 1996 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • In 2002, cigarette use by race/ethnic groups was higher among white high school students (25.5 percent) followed by Hispanic (20.5 percent) and African-American (14.3 percent) students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Among U.S. high school students in 2003 (National Institutes of Health):
    - 53.7 percent of 12th-graders have tried cigarettes; 43 percent of 10th graders.
    - 24.4 percent of 12th graders smoked during the past month; 16.7 percent of 10 graders.
    - 15.8 percent of 12th graders smoked daily during the past month;
    - 8.9 percent of 10th graders.
  • Among U.S. middle school students in 2003 (National Institutes of Health):
    - 28.4 percent had tried cigarettes.
    - 4.5 percent smoked daily in the past month.
    - 10.2 percent had smoked in the past month.

Background: Tobacco Impact

M. D. Anderson

  • Roughly one-third of M. D. Anderson patients receive treatment for tobacco-related cancers (M. D. Anderson).


  • Tobacco is responsible for one-third of all cancer deaths and is the chief avoidable cause of illness and death in the United States. Tobacco is responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S. each year, including cancer and heart disease. (American Cancer Society)
  • Tobacco use causes more deaths annually than alcohol, heroin, cocaine, suicide, homicide, automobile accidents, fire and AIDS combined. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)
  • In Texas, an estimated 9,670 people will die of lung cancer, and an estimated 10,470 Texans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. In the United States, an estimated 160,440 people will die of lung cancer, and an estimated 173,770 people will be diagnosed with the disease in 2004. (American Cancer Society)
  • Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer. In the United States, an estimated 65,700 women will die of lung cancer in 2004, and 39,600 will die of breast cancer. (American Cancer Society)

Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco use is an addiction, not just a habit. Less than 6 percent of Americans who quit smoking for a day remain abstinent one year later. For those trying a single cigarette, 33 to 50 percent will become addicted. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute) 
  • The average age of smoking or smokeless tobacco initiation is younger than 15 years old in many countries, including the United States. Every day, more than 3,000 children and adolescents become addicted to tobacco. Adult smokers who die currently are being replaced by youths who begin smoking. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)
  • Tobacco use is epidemic. About 25 percent of Americans (48 million people) currently smoke, and about one-fifth of U.S. high school seniors smoke. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)

Costs: Social and Fiscal

  • Nationally, the number of people who die earlier than their life expectancy translates to more than 5 million years of potential life lost each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Tobacco use costs the nation nearly $100 billion every year. The estimated annual cost for smoking-related medical care is $50 billion, with the cost of lost productivity and forfeited earnings due to smoking-related disability estimated at another $50 billion per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center