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U.S. Government rolls out new teen anti-smoking program

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
smoking, tobacco, marijuana, smoking-cdssation program, teens

As 2012 draws nigh, many smokers will make yet another resolution to quit smoking. However, in a matter of days or weeks, many of them will be puffing away. Many of these smokers have damaged their health from the habit with ailments including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and throat cancer. One group of smokers is not yet afflicted with those ailments and would benefit the most from quitting: teen smokers. Unfortunately, however, research suggests most of those teens will keep smoking and some light smokers will become heavy smokers.

According to current estimates, 19% of U.S. teens are smokers by the 12th grade. To address this issue, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is introducing a new smoking-cessation program focused on teens. At present, a Website has been developed (teen.smokefree.gov) and texting support is available. In January 2012, the NCI will add a smartphone application. The program joins others with the same aim: Helping teen smokers quit before they become chronic adult smokers. For example, on September 1, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius published an opinion in the Washington Post in which she pointed out the national problem of teen smoking.

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A new study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), released on December 14, reported that smoking had declined among U.S. teens. Countering that bit of good news was that one out of every 15 high school students smoked marijuana on a regular basis. Smoked marijuana and smoked tobacco are chemically very similar; thus, like cigarettes, the greatest health hazard of marijuana is due to smoking. The chief difference between the two plants is that marijuana contains THC and tobacco contains nicotine. Moreover, one of the most potent carcinogens in tobacco smoke, benzo(α)pyrene, is present in larger quantities in marijuana smoke.

The new federal teen smoking-cessation program focuses on:

  • Messages that emphasize teens are in charge. One slogan on the site about teens and their health decisions: "We're NOT going to tell you what to do."
  • Materials that focus on teen-specific triggers. Those include mood, social life, test anxiety and peer pressure.
  • Technologies teens use. Teens who want to quit can text QUIT to iQUIT (47848) to start getting helpful messages or go to the website to connect with counselors via instant messaging or phone. They also can join support networks on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Many teens are not receptive to messages describing future health problems because they have little interest in a disease that may not affect them for decades. However, teen smokers are receptive to messages about staining their teeth, smelling bad, wasting money, harming the environment, and even the fact that second-hand smoke can be harmful to their siblings and pets.