Monday, March 16, 2009

Can Peer Pressure Prevent Youngsters From Smoking?

Being bad for our health, smoking has been accused as the culprit that causes heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke, and lung cancers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking kills about 4 million people every year, and some health experts even estimate the deaths from smoking worldwide would exceed 10 million by 2020.

A 2006 study indicated that 9.5 percent of worldwide students aged between 13 and 15 smoke cigarettes and those from European countries accounted for the highest rate at 19.1 percent.

As compared to using traditional posters, advertisements and comic strips to tell young people about the harmful effects of smoking, British researchers found that enrolling an influential student to convey the anti-smoking message to their schoolmates could be a feasible way of getting youngsters to stay away from smoking.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, western England, and Cardiff University in Wales carried out a project known as ASSIST to cover 59 schools in western England and Wales, involving 11,000 students aged between 12 and 13. Their findings were published on May 10, 2008 in the British journal The Lancet.

The researchers implemented the peer-pressure project, known as ASSIST in 30 schools while asked the remaining 29 schools to carry out their normal anti-smoking education to act as control group.

The students were first asked to nominate influential schoolmates in their year group. These individuals were then invited to a recruitment meeting where the researchers explained the purpose of being a 'peer supporter.'

After getting consent from their parents, these peer supporters participated in a 2-day training session held outside the school. The risks of smoking and the economic benefits of stopping were made known to them. Meanwhile, they were also taught the skills in communication, conflict negotiation and resolution and understanding self-esteem.

The training continued and was beefed up in 4 school-based sessions. Over the following 10 weeks, the 'peer supporters' began to interact with and disseminate the benefits of not smoking to the peers in their year group.

Students in schools where the ASSIST program was tried were 25 percent less likely to engage in regular smoking immediately after the intervention, as compared with the control group. However, the success rate gradually lowered over time, and the reduction was 15 percent after 2 years.

The ASSIST program was said to be popular among students and staffs in the schools where it was tried and the researchers pointed out that their results did support a shift in thinking on how to tackle smoking. For the past, anti-smoking campaigns have been targeted at cessation rather than prevention, and have been focused mainly on adults instead of youngsters.

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