Teenagers know all too well how hard it is to find their place in the socially stratified halls of middle and high school. For many, there’s an ongoing battle between being themselves and trying hard to come across as cool, no matter the cost.
For years, smoking cigarettes was a shortcut to cool. It defined it. Fortunately, cigarettes no longer carry the cachet they once did. But other addictive products such as e-cigarettes and hookahs may be picking up where cigarettes left off.
A longtime advocate of anti-tobacco education for kids, Prokhorov developed “A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience (ASPIRE)” in 2001. The evidence-based, online tool uses a video game-like format, graphics, animations and streaming video to teach teens about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine, and encourages them to quit smoking or, better yet, never start.
“It promotes itself because it’s so incredibly engaging,” says Prokhorov. “It’s full of activities – it’s a fun way to learn and we’re not surprised that kids like it.”
ASPIRE is taught in various schools in 33 states and 66 countries. A new agreement between MD Anderson and the Houston Independent School District makes the program available to all 110,000 middle school and high school students in the district.
The curriculum is available in English and Spanish through HISD’s online learning platform. It also is taught in required health and physical education classes across 46 HISD high schools.
ASPIRE has a track record of success. A 2008 study revealed that students participating in the program were three times less likely to start smoking than those who only received anti-tobacco literature.
“Students are privileged to receive this specific education directly from our local, world-renowned experts,” says Annie Wolfe, HISD’s officer for secondary curriculum. “The inclusion of relevant facts, such as the negative effects of vaping, not only better informs our students, but also educates many adults who believe the myth that these more modern practices are not as harmful.”