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M. D. Anderson’s Online Anti-Smoking Program Graduates Students from Across the United States


ASPIRE Adopted by Schools in 16 States to Educate Youth About Smoking

Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D. Since its launch in 16 states this past November, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has graduated 250 students and enrolled another 1,707 via its ASPIRE anti-tobacco program deployed in school districts across the country.

The online course advances the institution’s national commitment to helping teens kick the habit before smoking becomes a lifelong addiction. In recognition of National Kick Butts Day, Wednesday, March 25, M. D. Anderson will present a combined cash award of $1,250 to the top three organizations with the highest number of ASPIRE graduates. Awards will also be given to the organization with the highest number of participants and to the group with the most improved participation.

Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism coordinated by the Washington, DC-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to raise awareness of tobacco use and the tobacco industry.

“Tobacco is a chief preventable cause of cancer death, so through education and prevention of tobacco use, our program contributes to M. D. Anderson’s mission of eliminating cancer,” said Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor, Department of Behavioral Science at M. D. Anderson.

ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience) is an evidence-based tobacco prevention and cessation Web site for junior high and high school students developed by a research team led by Prokhorov. The site integrates interactive media, customized messages, graphics, animations and streaming videos to capture the interest of non-smoking and smoking teens through situations teens readily relate to, like dating and stress from school and sports.

“Teens think they’re invincible, making it difficult to reach them,” said Prokhorov. “To get their attention, you need something that holds their interest and communicates on their terms. ASPIRE speaks directly to them, in their own language, and it’s changing their attitudes towards tobacco usage.”

According to the American Lung Association, every day approximately 4,000 children between 12 and 17 years of age smoke their first cigarette, with an estimated 1,300 expected to become regular smokers. A study by Prokhorov and his colleagues, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research in October 2008, reported that students participating in ASPIRE are more aware about the dangers of smoking, are making more informed decisions about smoking and are less tempted to initiate smoking.

Building on the original Web site launched by M. D. Anderson in 2004, the newly launched ASPIRE program is tailored to meet the needs of educators and acts as a complement to physical education and health curriculum already in place. In addition to schools, the program engages local volunteer organizations, departments of health, hospitals, health insurance carriers and organizations who are interested in tobacco prevention education. To date, schools and organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin have adopted the new ASPIRE program.

“Schools have a lot of latitude when using ASPIRE,” said Kathy Hill, program manager for ASPIRE and a former inner city school teacher. “It can be used after school, at home, for extra credit - we have schools using ASPIRE as an alternative to suspension when students are found smoking on school grounds. It’s easy for teachers to use without taking any time away from daily curriculum or uprooting existing programs.” (See below to learn how ASPIRE is being used in schools nationwide).

The most recent version of ASPIRE includes a pre- and post-test, quizzes after each module and a certificate of completion when the adolescent successfully becomes an ASPIRE graduate. From the first log-in to graduation, ASPIRE takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete.

M. D. Anderson also donated $1,750 to the top three participating school districts for the Great American Smokeout in November 2008: Chicago Public Schools awarded $1,000; Houston Independent School District awarded $500; and Alachua County Health Department, Florida awarded $250.

ASPIRE began as a National Cancer Institute-funded study conducted by Prokhorov in collaboration with researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The program has evolved to an easy-to-access, user-friendly Web site, funded by the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research.

The program is available free of charge to school districts, state health departments, teachers and parents nationwide. Anyone may access the program by visiting For more information about ASPIRE and the educational opportunities available, please contact Kathy Hill in the Department of Behavioral Science by calling 713-745-3817.

How ASPIRE is Being Used in School Districts Across the U.S.

From physical education and computer classes to after school programs, teachers nationwide are implementing ASPIRE in many different ways to teach young people the dangers of smoking:

* Cliff Bocian, the computer teacher at George Washington High School on Chicago’s Southside, sees the problem of teen smoking firsthand. That’s why he uses ASPIRE in his classroom throughout the year - during major health weeks, testing weeks and even the last days before breaks - to remind his freshmen students about the dangers of smoking.
* Health International Studies teacher Susan Parker at Eagle Mountain Magnet School in Batesville, Arkansas gives her ASPIRE students bonus tickets that can be redeemed for prizes as an incentive to complete the modules. Currently, her 6th grade participants are pooling their tickets together in order to earn a field trip.
* After seeing a presentation, Coach Cassandra Carlyle wanted to use ASPIRE to complement the health curriculum in place at Houston’s West Briar Middle School. To involve parents and introduce them to ASPIRE, Coach Carlyle advertised the program in “The Grizzly Growler,” the school’s weekly newsletter.
* ASPIRE is so popular in computer classes at the Hopkins Street School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that information technology teacher Cathy Montemurri sees her ASPIRE graduates coming in on their own to help other students complete their modules and graduate.
* April Gatzemeyer, health and science teacher at New Haven Middle School in New Haven, Michigan, sees ASPIRE making an impact on her students, particularly the interactive videos and pictures of smoking effects on the smoker’s body: “I overhear my students talking about ASPIRE, comparing the different videos and pictures; the ones that haven’t seen them yet are quick to try and finish a module to see what their friends are talking about.”
* As an incentive to complete the program, Wayne Lloyd and Denise Foltz at Maplewood Junior-Senior High School in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania enter their ASPIRE graduates in a drawing to win gift cards worth up to $125. Students can also complete ASPIRE modules as an option to make up gym classes missed.


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