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M. D. Anderson Launches National Effort to Curb Teen Smoking

Health Educators Nationwide Encouraged to Adopt Interactive Web Site to Give Teens the Facts on Tobacco Use

M. D. Anderson News Release 04/02/08

In an effort to raise awareness about the health risks associated with tobacco use and to help teen smokers quit, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center marked the 13th annual National Kick Butts Day today by announcing a plan to expand use of its ASPIRE Web site to students nationwide through collaborations with state education and health agencies. 

ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience) is an evidence-based tobacco prevention and cessation Web site for middle and high school kids developed by a group of researchers led by Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor, Department of Behavioral Science at M. D. Anderson. The site integrates interactive video-game like components, customized messages, graphics, animation and streaming video to capture the interest of both non-smoking and smoking teens. "Nearly 4,000 youth under the age of 18 start smoking daily," Prokhorov said. "We created ASPIRE because 'Just Say No' wasn't good enough anymore."

Through situations teens readily relate to - dating, stress from school and sports - ASPIRE addresses the long-term and short-term consequences of tobacco use, including changes in physical appearance and physiological processes (e.g., heart rate, decreased blood supply). The Web site speaks to the teenagers on their terms and emphasizes that addiction is dependence, appealing to their desire to be independent and to make decisions on their own, said Prokhorov.

Students who used ASPIRE reported reduced number of cigarettes smoked, stronger anti-smoking beliefs and lower temptations to smoke. To date, the ASPIRE website has had over 30,000 visitors from 66 countries.

An initial e-campaign targeting 97 school districts in 32 states in North America was launched in late 2007. From those efforts, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Kentucky Cancer Program and the North Carolina Department of Public Health all have plans underway to use ASPIRE in schools throughout their states. A similar partnership with the Houston Independent School District that utilizes ASPIRE to complement anti-smoking lesson plans in physical education and health classes will serve as a model for future collaborations.

"This marks the first concerted effort to provide a national platform in which ASPIRE can reach our nation's teens," said Kathy Hill, a communications specialist in the Department of Behavioral Science who is leading ASPIRE's national roll out. "The response we received from this first push was very promising and we look forward to continuing discussions with several states that expressed interest in adopting ASPIRE into their school's curriculums."

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the organization that sponsors National Kick Butts Day, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans each year - more than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. Smoking is linked to cancers of the lung, throat, mouth, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach and bladder.


"Educators and parents can play a valuable role in informing adolescents about the health risks associated with smoking," Prokorov said. "ASPIRE offers a powerful resource to those looking to give teenagers the knowledge and skills to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle."

ASPIRE is available free of charge to school districts, state health departments, teachers and parents nationwide. Anyone may access the program by visiting ASPIRE is funded by the National Cancer Institute and the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research. For more information about ASPIRE or to learn how your organization can use the program, please contact Kathy Hill in the Department of Behavioral Science by calling 713-745-3817. 04/02/08


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center