MD Anderson celebrates the mission of Kick Butts Day

Comprehensive, evidence-based programs strive to prevent youth tobacco use 

As an institution devoted to eliminating cancer, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center proudly supports the mission of Kick Butts Day to prevent tobacco use in our nation’s children. Organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Kick Butts Day is a national day of awareness focused on educating and empowering youth to choose tobacco-free lifestyles. Through several evidence-based programs, MD Anderson has committed to educating youth about the dangers of tobacco use and its effects on their future health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use claims an estimated 480,000 lives each year and remains the single largest preventable cause of death in the United States. Tobacco use causes roughly one-third of all cancers, including 90 percent of lung cancers, as well as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and stroke, among other health conditions.

“We welcome any opportunities to raise awareness of the devastating effects of tobacco use,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “Knowing most people develop their nicotine addiction at a young age, tobacco prevention relies on youth education to encourage healthy lifestyle choices and tobacco-free environments to limit youth exposure.”

The CDC reports that more than 3,200 children aged 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette each day in the U.S., and an estimated 2,100 become daily smokers. In fact, nearly 90 percent of current smokers first tried a cigarette before age 18. In Texas, approximately 19,000 children become daily smokers each year.

In an effort to counter these trends, MD Anderson has a variety of programs designed to educate youth and prevent tobacco initiation. In 2001, researchers led by Alex Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science, developed A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience (ASPIRE), a youth-oriented tobacco prevention and cessation curriculum. The online program is designed to provide an engaging way for teens to learn about the dangers of tobacco use.

ASPIRE has been adopted by schools across 33 states in the U.S. as well as more than 6 countries. Recently, MD Anderson and the Houston Independent School District (HISD) reached a first-of-its-kind agreement to provide access to ASPIRE for the roughly 100,000 HISD middle and high school students.

Further, as founding partners of the CATCH Global Foundation, MD Anderson and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston support distribution of a youth e-cigarette prevention curriculum, CATCH My Breath, to middle schools across the country.

“With a wide variety of new and emerging tobacco products, there is an increasing need to design and implement programs such as these,” said Prokhorov. “Our goal is to educate youth about the harms of tobacco use and nicotine addiction, encouraging them to quit smoking or, better yet, never start.”

MD Anderson also offers a number of community outreach programs designed to educate the public about reducing cancer risk, including several programs focused on tobacco prevention. These include a puppet show designed for grades K-4, a teen tobacco prevention program for ages 11-18 and a Tobacco 101 course for adults.

In observance of Kick Butts Day, MD Anderson sponsored a week of awareness and education events at Houston-area KIPP schools, in partnership with CTFK, the Texas Department of State Health Services and Tobacco Free Ft. Bend. Some activities included a pledge wall, cups in a fence with anti-tobacco messages, daily announcements for tobacco education and a puppet show for K-1 students.

MD Anderson also has served as a resource for statewide tobacco control policies that will serve to protect the health of future generations. Collaborations between The University of Texas System and MD Anderson led to development of the system-wide Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative in 2016. A recently published impact report highlights progress of the first year, including the establishment of tobacco-free policies across all 14 institutions of the UT System, which includes more than 228,000 students and 100,000 faculty and staff.

Through MD Anderson’s EndTobacco program, faculty have served as educational resources to state legislators considering policies to limit youth tobacco exposure, such as raising the minimum legal age of tobacco sale to 21. The EndTobacco program is an initiative of the cancer prevention and control platform, part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, an ambitious effort to reduce cancer deaths by more rapidly developing and implementing advances in prevention, early detection and treatment based on scientific discoveries. The program comprises 13 moon shots focused on a variety of the most challenging cancers backed by 10 platforms that provide deep expertise, cutting-edge technology and infrastructure.

“We are motivated by tobacco-related suffering we witness in the lives of our patients and their families each day,” said Hawk. “Therefore, MD Anderson has prioritized evidence-based tobacco prevention, cessation and control measures wherever possible. No other single action has as great a potential to advance our mission of eliminating cancer in Texas, the nation and the world.”