New Program Designed To Help Smokers Get Anti-Smoking Messages To Their Kids

April 28, 1998

CHAPEL HILL - Health specialists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have launched a unique national program to help parents who smoke prevent or delay their children's first experiments with cigarettes.

"It's pretty clear from epidemiological studies that the earlier children first try smoking cigarettes, the greater their risk of smoking as adolescents and adults," said program director Dr. Christine Jackson. "And when I say earlier, I'm talking about elementary school children."

A survey study she and colleagues published last year in the American Journal of Public Health showed that more than 20 percent of fifth-graders already had used tobacco products, as had 10 percent of third-graders.

"The problem is that most resources for preventing smoking have focused on middle school students," Jackson said. "We need to start earlier, and we especially need to help parents who smoke get anti-smoking messages to their children. Our program is designed to do just that."

Another study she conducted showed that even smokers, if they try, can communicate effectively with their children about not smoking. When parents who smoke actively convey anti-smoking messages, researchers found, the odds of their youngsters picking up the habit are just as low as if parents abstained.

Jackson is assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the UNC-CH School of Public Health. She designed her free interactive "Smoke-Free Kids" program with the help of N.C. third grade teachers because it targets third-graders and their parents.

Every two weeks this summer, her office will mail educational packets to parents who sign up, Jackson said. They contain activities that are both instructional and fun.

"It is a mistake on the part of parents to think that smoking is more a function of media influence and peer pressure than what they themselves do," she said. "Parents, not the media or friends, are a lot more important before and during elementary school. We are trying to get children to never puff on a cigarette because it doesn't take long to go from puffing to becoming an intermittent smoker and then a regular smoker during adolescence."

For information about participating in the program, which is the only one of its kind in the country, call the project office at (919) 966-7151. Fifteen N.C. school districts, three in South Carolina and nine in Colorado already have sent details for parents home with children.

Health educators will answer parents' questions by telephone. Separate newsletters for children and for parents also will be produced so participants can share experiences and productive ideas.

Simultaneously, researchers will gather information from children for four years to discover whether the program helped them enter middle school without having tried smoking.

"Anyone who smokes and is the parent of a third-grader is encouraged to participate," Jackson said.

Both the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are supporting the Program with grants.

Note: Jackson can be reached at (919) 966-7546.
School of Public Health contact: Lisa Katz, 966-7467.
News Services contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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