Hardly sinking in

Emily Singer
March 7, 2005

Parents who rely on schools to deter their teenagers from smoking might want to reconsider their approach. New research shows that school-based prevention programs have little long-term effect on smoking rates, suggesting that public health agencies should rethink their anti-smoking spending.

"When you have limited dollars to spend on tobacco prevention, you really need to use those dollars effectively," says Sarah Wiehe, a pediatrician and public health expert at the Indiana University School of Medicine. She led the research, published in the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Wiehe says the money would be better spent on media campaigns and cigarette tax initiatives, which may prove more successful in the long run.

California, which has the longest-running tobacco control program of any state, spent 30% ? $406 million ? of its tobacco program budget on school-based prevention programs from 1989 to 2003, according to an accompanying editorial.

Researchers found that only one of the eight school-based smoking education programs studied showed a significant long-term reduction in smoking rates by the time the teens turned 18.

The one successful program ? called Life Skills Training ? uses interactive activities, such as role-playing, which may better engage teens. However, Wiehe cautions that the lack of long-term data collected on most programs makes it difficult to determine the key to success.