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April 13, 2004

School of Public Health Helps Teens Produce Anti-Smoking Messages

Twelve Baltimore area high school students spent one of their coveted days off school to tape four television public service announcements (PSA) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on April 9. One of the PSAs shows ways to reduce stress by playing sports, dancing, reading or talking on the phone, rather than smoking. A second PSA shows a girl’s yellow teeth from smoking and being rejected by a boy because he saw cigarettes in her purse.

Photographer tapes anti-smoking PSA with local high school students.

Photographer tapes anti-smoking
PSA with local high school
students

The PSAs are part of a study, which was funded by the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund Program, and led by Barbara Curbow, PhD, associate professor in the School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. She created a committee of local teenage girls, called Teen Girls Against Smoking (TGAS), to guide the study. The members were recruited from Baltimore city and county to reflect ethnic and school differences.

More than 100 girls, including the seven committee members, were interviewed about a variety of smoking issues. Four themes emerged from the interviews: the social environment of smoking, being offered a cigarette, ways to regulate stress and the health issues of smoking. Dr. Curbow is looking into the reasons why teenage girls start smoking and ways to change those behaviors.

The process of developing the content of the PSAs was not typical of most research studies. The TGAS members worked with the researchers to select PSA ideas and then with a media consultant to script and develop one PSA to correlate with each theme.

Recent research by the American Legacy Foundation showed a rise in the number of women developing lung cancer, which indicated more girls are starting to smoke. Twenty-eight percent of high school girls smoke, which is up from eight percent of middle school girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control 1999 National Youth Tobacco Survey. The reasons girls initially started smoking were different from those of boys and, therefore, the anti-smoking messages must be tailored by gender. Smoking rates were higher for girls with depression, low self-confidence and a history of abuse, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls.

“The most important thing is recognizing that girls sometimes turn to smoking because of stress or feelings of depression. One of the best things to come out of this study is that we are addressing those emotional needs, which typically aren’t included in the physical check-ups many children have while growing up,” said Dr. Curbow.

The PSAs will be given to local television stations and the state of Maryland so they may be used to persuade girls not to smoke. Dr. Curbow hopes to work with additional teen girls in the future to develop four more PSAs. She also hopes to look into the most effective message for smokers versus non-smokers to see if they differ. -- Kenna Brigham

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Brigham or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.