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Survivor Educates Teens about Smoking Dangers

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month

M. D. Anderson News Release 11/01/2007

Jerry Berkowitz

“As a teen, no one ever told us that cigarettes would affect our health,” says Jerry Berkowitz, a throat cancer survivor who started smoking at age 13. “Everyone smoked.”

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center wants parents and teachers to help educate teens about the dangers of tobacco use to reduce teen smoking, says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at M. D. Anderson.

“Most adult smokers begin using tobacco as teens when they are most vulnerable to tobacco advertising and other environmental influences,” says Prokhorov, who also is the lead developer of ASPIRE, an online, anti-smoking multimedia program for teens.

According to the American Legacy Foundation, one-third of all smokers begin by age 14, and about 90 percent of all smokers begin before age 21. 

 

Today, programs like ASPIRE are using captivating images and messages to better inform young adults about the realities of tobacco use.

“Educating teens about the dangers of tobacco use is essential if we are to eventually reduce the number of smoking-related deaths,” says Prokhorov. “More people die from tobacco-related illnesses than from automobile accidents, drug abuse, AIDS and alcohol combined.”

Berkowitz also recognizes the importance of educating teens. Decades of smoking and his subsequent treatment for throat cancer led to Berkowitz losing the ability to speak. As a result, he now visits schools and has spoken, using an artificial larynx, to thousands of students about the truth and consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke.

“Nothing I have ever done in my life compares to the rewarding feeling I get from speaking to students. I am making a difference,” says Berkowitz, who hopes that the students he speaks with won’t have to suffer from the damaging effects of cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

To learn more, visit Cancer Awareness & Prevention. Featured topics this month include:

  • Berkowitz’s lung cancer survivor story 
  • Prokhorov’s work educating teens about tobacco dangers
  • Tips on speaking to teens about tobacco   
  • Lung cancer prevention strategies
  • Tobacco-cessation programs and resources

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the most common cancer-related death in both men and women. More than 160,000 lung cancer deaths are expected to occur in 2007. Since 1987, more women have died from lung cancer than from breast cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Smoking is responsible for 87% of all lung cancer cases in the United States. Tobacco use also is associated with the development of cervical, head and neck, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney and bladder cancers.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center