Mexico, Texas institutions unite to wage war on tobacco

Collaboration engages UT MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program cancer prevention and control platform

MD Anderson News Release 11/27/2012

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the National Institute of Cancer of the United Mexican States, and the Commission of National Institutes and High Specialty Hospitals joined forces today in Mexico City, signing an agreement to develop prevention and control programs to reduce tobacco use in the United States and Mexico, with a focus on Mexican and Mexican-American youth.

MD Anderson President Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., the Commission of National Institutes and High Specialty Hospitals Commissioner, Romeo Rodrίguez, M.D., Sc.D., and the National Institute of Cancer of the United Mexican States Director General, Alejandro Mohar, M.D., officially signed the agreement as a commitment from the institutions to create a comprehensive evidence-based smoking and tobacco-cessation campaign together targeting the Mexican population. Mexico’s Secretary of Health Salomón Chertorivski signed as a witness of honor at the ceremony.

DePinho says the collaboration is the first flagship project from the cancer prevention and control “platform” of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program focused on converting academic knowledge into effective anti-smoking strategies for the population in Mexico and across Texas. The unprecedented Moon Shots Program is an aggressive and milestone-driven effort initially targeting eight cancers with an end goal of dramatically accelerating the reduction of all cancer deaths. The platforms are supporting infrastructure, technologies or processes that will support all of the moon shots. Cancer control in the population is a major emphasis for the Moon Shots Program.

“This agreement will advance tobacco prevention and cessation efforts drawing on the experience and expertise of both partners, while providing new opportunities to develop more progressive programs, services, policies and initiatives for both countries,” DePinho said. “Although our initial approach is to start with Texas and Mexico, the overall goal is to develop a model that will scale for the United States and other Spanish-speaking countries around the world.”  

The Mexico and Texas Tobacco Control Initiative’s intent is to contribute to legislative and policy initiatives and collaborate on clinical and community services and educational programs that can be implemented in neighborhoods, educational institutions, places of employment and public establishments.

Rising incidence of young smokers creates an adult problem

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable cancer deaths, killing more than 1,200 Americans every day. According to the 2012 U.S. Surgeon General's report, 3.6 million American middle and high school students smoke cigarettes including one in four high school seniors. Every day, more than 3,800 young people start smoking and many will become lifelong customers, accounting for the 94 million current and former smokers in the United States alone.

The United States is not alone in this concerning epidemic. According to data published in the 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 27% of youth – ages 13 to 15 – in Mexico City smoke. Of that same age group, 60% are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places, and 46% are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

“Although we’ve developed several programs during the years to address smoking incidence, few projects are in place for tobacco control directed toward children. I believe this collaboration will help establish a stronger effort targeting youth, educating and protecting children, while ultimately lowering deaths due to smoking on both sides of the border,” Secretary Chertorivski said.

Combating the tobacco industry’s marketing strategy with one of our own

Today, aggressive marketing campaigns from the tobacco industry are attracting a younger population of smokers and tobacco users. From enticing cigarette packs, fruit-flavored tobacco, electronic cigarettes and smartphone apps encouraging teens to smoke, the battle to prevent teen smoking and thus prevent health complications and diseases, including cancer, continues to be challenging.

“Comprehensive and culturally-tailored programs incorporating policy interventions, public education and tailored services are important factors in preventing smoking-related cancers,” said Ernest T. Hawk, M.D., M.P.H., division head and vice president of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at MD Anderson.

Secretary Chertorivski said they will start with integrating established 
MD Anderson programs in Mexican communities and the educational system, such as ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience). The web-based smoking prevention and cessation program for children and teens launched a Spanish-based curriculum just last year.

“We must not only deliver services that help control cancer, but also inspire parents, educators, legislators and many others to help us stop this disease before it starts. Prevention and early detection of cancer are the future,” DePinho said.