University of Vermont

Office of Health Promotion Research

UVM Wins $16 Million Grant to Reduce Youth Smoking

UVM Wins $16 Million Grant to Reduce Teen Smoking

Release Date: 03-07-2001
Contact:, Phone (802)656-7875, FAX 802-656-3203

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at UVM has received a $16 million, five-year program project grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Titled PRYSM for "Program to Reduce Youth Smoking through Media," research funded by the grant will test the use of theory-based mass media messages designed to deter adolescents from smoking cigarettes. The PRYSM grant is one of the largest grants ever received at UVM.

Leading the study will be John "Kim" Worden, research professor of family practice and a member of the UVM College of Medicine's Office of Health Promotion Research. Worden, who, with his colleagues received a C. Everett Koop National Health Award in 1996, is nationally recognized as a pioneer in researching how best to reduce teen smoking using anti-smoking media campaigns. Their research since the mid-'80s has established that positive non-smoking role models -- rather than shocking images such as blackened lungs -- are most effective in preventing teens from smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) reports that youth smoking rates are up significantly from a decade ago and found, in a survey conducted in 1999, that over 30 percent of youth had smoked within the previous 30 days. Tobacco settlement monies distributed to states and communities across the country aim to improve these statistics.

According to Brian Flynn, study team member and director of UVM's Office of Health Promotion Research, a number of states are designing media campaigns to prevent youth from smoking that are not based on research evidence. Through their work on this grant, Worden, Flynn and their colleagues intend to provide directors of programs across the country with better guidance.

"Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease in the industrial world," Flynn said. "And since it's a behavior, we have the tools to attempt to change it."

The study will consist of three closely integrated research projects that focus on the development of the messages, reducing youth smoking using mass media, and using mass media to encourage smoking cessation among youth.

Youth in San Antonio, Miami and Philadelphia were interviewed last fall to get ideas for creating media spots tailored to each of four audiences, including non-smoking youth in grades 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12 and youth smokers in grades 9-12. The study will take place in four geographically dispersed states, with a pair of cities in each state serving as study sites.

The message content for the spots will be delivered in different ways to appeal to the various audience segments, but all three prevention campaigns will deliver these messages: It is more socially acceptable to be a non-smoker; smoking causes undesirable problems like bad breath and smelly clothing; most kids do not smoke; and it's not difficult to refuse a cigarette. The cessation campaign will emphasize the message that most young smokers want to quit; good things happen when people quit; quitting means resisting one cigarette at a time; and ways to resist having a cigarette.

The receipt of this grant represents the culmination of many years of study devoted to how mass media can affect youth tobacco use, beginning with Worden's early work in Vermont in 1978. Flynn began collaborating with Worden in 1983. Joining them in this project will be Laura Solomon, research professor of psychology, whose previous work had been in helping adult smokers quit; and Taka Ashikaga, professor of mathematics and a statistician.

Worden and his fellow researchers are optimistic about what their findings could mean for the future. "Our job is to find out what works and let the world know -- so that we can put the information in the hands of national organizations that have command over the resources and responsibility for large-scale campaigns," Worden said. "We hope that one day there will be a scientifically based national media campaign to tackle the youth smoking problem."

Last modified September 16 2013 04:11 PM

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