Seeing Past the Smoke Screen

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Katrina Burton, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Breannacheer.jpgWith nearly one in five teens smoking cigarettes, there is no better advocate for smoking-cessation than Breanna Jordan, a senior at Stone Mountain High, a school nestled in DeKalb County in Georgia.

As a member of the National Honor Society, varsity cheerleader squad and active participant of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) - a student-run program that discourages students from drinking, smoking and engaging in destructive behaviors - Jordan is no stranger to peer pressure and what's popular among teens.

"Smoking is the in thing to do for those going through the cool phase," says Jordan. "There is a lot of stress that comes with being a teenager, and some think that smoking among other things helps relieve that stress."

Jordan says it is not only the hygiene problems - bad breath, bad teeth and body odor - that have made her say no to smoking, but diseases like cancer that concern her. Jordan, like most people, has either had a personal experience with cancer or knows someone whose life has been touched by the disease. Just last year her aunt died of a non-smoking related cancer - ovarian cancer.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths, killing more than 1,200 Americans every day, and a high percentage of smokers start smoking before the age of 18. When told about the recent release of the U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking that revealed 3.6 million kids smoke cigarettes, including more than 600,000 middle school students, making youth smoking an epidemic, Jordan was not surprised by the numbers.

"I don't have any close friends that smoke cigarettes, but I know of some high school and middle school students that do," says Jordan. "These poor choices and negative decisions are why I am committed to helping other students see the dangers of smoking."

The tobacco industry has invested heavily in marketing to young adults through the internet, video games, magazines and most recently social media sites including Facebook. The problem is that young children and teens also have access to the same channels that young adults do, and these messages appeal to them as well.

ASPIRE to quit smoking
Through her participation with SADD, Jordan is able to help plan school activities including Red Ribbon Week, Ghost Week (Zombie), and more recently participate in MD Anderson's ASPIRE (A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience) Program - a web-based learning tool developed jointly by MD Anderson Cancer Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to help teens quit smoking and encourage those who don't smoke not to start.

Today, there are 24 states enrolled in ASPIRE and almost 13,000 student interventions initiated since program inception. Most recently, an international location was added in Beirut, Lebanon, and just last year the Centers for Disease Control launched a national initiative, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), to combat tobacco usage and obesity. The CPPW program identified several counties including, Dekalb County (GA) and Austin/Travis County (TX), that are using ASPIRE as a tool to curb teen tobacco usage. 

Jordan was one of 22 members of the SADD program at Stone Mountain High who completed the program and admits that if there was ever a reason to not smoke, the information and interactive tools of ASPIRE are it. "What stuck with me most were the videos that showed real people, and the effect smoking and cancer has on your body," Jordan says.

Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson and founder of the ASPIRE program believes the release of the surgeon general's report will help support more programs targeted towards young children and teens. "The steps that are being taken at the national, state and local level to support programs to prevent teen smoking are encouraging, but we still have a long way to go," says Prokhorov.

Set to graduate at the top of her class this year and follow her career path as a registered nurse, Jordan hopes that more schools will adopt programs such as ASPIRE and CPPW to prevent and stop teen smoking.

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