For every dollar spent on addiction, pennies are spent on prevention, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. It's a shocking statistic that spurred Mindy Hildebrand of the Hildebrand Foundation into action.
"I've always had a passion for education," Hildebrand says. "As my kids started high school, I was shocked to see students starting to use tobacco. The anti-smoking message had been drilled into the previous generations, but now you have all these crazy options, like vapes. Because of my work on the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, I knew the importance of educating these kids to try to prevent them from developing this addictive behavior early on."
She met with Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor, Behavioral Science and director of the Youth and Family Cancer Prevention Program at MD Anderson. Prokhorov told her about ASPIRE, an online, bilingual, teen-savvy tobacco prevention and cessation program for middle and high school students. Developed by tobacco control researchers at MD Anderson, the program aims to motivate teens to be tobacco-free through original videos, animations and games; testimonies from peers, doctors, smokers and nonsmokers; and tips and resources to stop smoking or avoid the temptation to smoke.
"We designed the original program in 2002," says Prokhorov. "We needed an update, incorporating the many new tobacco products in the market."
In 2017, the Hildebrand Foundation donated $1.5 million to the ASPIRE program, funding a complete revamp.
"The donation has made a huge difference," says Prokhorov. "Typically, we fall far behind the tobacco industry in terms of ads and technology. This has helped level the playing field."
ASPIRE now features updated animations and videos as well as products such as e-cigarettes and hookah, retaining the evidence-based strength of the previous program.
"It's key that teens understand what smoking is doing to their bodies," says Hildebrand. "ASPIRE is an effective tool that resonates with teens, and I'm proud to support this program."
Teens turn to ASPIRE and vice versa
Thousands of teens in 30 states across the U.S. and eight additional countries around the world use the ASPIRE program to learn about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine use. Students at Furr High School in Houston are active participants in the program and have turned to ASPIRE for encouragement and knowledge over the past five years. ASPIRE recently sought out their advice.
"Collaborating with MD Anderson through ASPIRE is great for students because they see the dangers in tobacco use, they become intimately involved in the program and they feel important and empowered," says Kay Kavtorina, a film production and digital media teacher at Furr. "Our students had a big hand in updating ASPIRE. MD Anderson would send us drawings, characters, fonts and styles, verifying what teenagers liked and disliked. It was great for them to be a part of the process."
The updated ASPIRE program launched in January.