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Training Student Leaders Cuts Peers' Smoking Rates

U.K. study finds overall 25% drop in those who take up the habit

FRIDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Training influential students to spread anti-smoking messages in their everyday conversations with peers helps reduce smoking rates, according to a U.K. study.

The study included almost 11,000 students, ages 12 to 13, at 59 schools in western England and Wales. At 30 of the schools, certain students were selected to receive training about the risks of smoking, the economic benefits of not smoking, communication skills, group work, negotiation, conflict resolution, sensitivity to others, personal values, and building confidence and self-esteem. The students at the other 29 schools acted as a control group.

For 10 weeks after their ASSIST (A Stop Smoking in Schools Trial) training, the peer support students talked with other students in their age groups about the benefits of not smoking.

Overall, students in those schools were 25 percent less likely to take up regular smoking than students in the control group schools immediately after ASSIST intervention, 23 percent less likely to start regular smoking after one year, and 15 percent less likely after two years.

Among high-risk students (occasional, experimental or ex-smokers at the start of the study) in schools with ASSIST intervention, the risk of regular smoking was reduced by 21 percent immediately after the program, 25 percent after one year, and 15 percent after two years.

Overall, students in the intervention schools were 22 percent less likely to be smokers than those in the control group schools. Based on their findings, the University of Bristol and Cardiff University researchers calculated that widespread implementation of ASSIST could reduce smoking prevalence by 3 percent among students ages 14 to 15. On a U.K.-wide basis, that translates into 43,000 fewer 14- to 15-year-old students who become regular smokers.

The findings were published in this week's edition of The Lancet.

"Our study has shown that the ASSIST training program was effective in achievement of a sustained reduction in uptake of regular smoking in adolescents for two years after its delivery. Furthermore, it was well received by both students and staff," the authors wrote. "Confidence in the robustness of this finding is enhanced by the very high response rates achieved (over 90 percent), the retention of all schools for the duration of the trial, the diversity of the schools involved, and the concurrence of self-reported smoking data with saliva testing."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about youth and tobacco.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, May 8, 2008

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