Purdue University's James G. Anderson and researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine predict those results based on a computer simulation model they developed to analyze the effectiveness of four types of smoking interventions for persons up to 25 years of age. The model projects how much each program would cut smoking-related deaths as the individuals aged. The researchers based the study on a population of about 80,000 youths and the current number of smoking-related deaths in various age groups.
The program must last at least a year to be effective, says Anderson, professor of medical sociology.
"Basically, you want the anti-smoking push to come from more than one source," he says. "What you need is classroom education as well as community-awareness programs."
The next most effective method was a school-based program that helps adolescents become aware of how cigarettes are marketed to them. It cut the rate of smoking-related deaths by 34 percent.
The least effective methods were brief counseling by physicians on the harmful effects of tobacco products, and active enforcement of tobacco laws to prevent the sale of cigarettes to minors. These two methods reduced deaths by 2.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
"Smoking-related death is one of the most preventable health problems," Anderson says. "If we can prevent young people from starting to smoke, or get them to stop smoking early, it will have a huge payoff in saving lives and cutting health care costs."
Approximately 18 percent of all health care costs in the United States are related to smoking, as is one in five deaths, Anderson says.
"Each year approximately one million teen-agers become nicotine-dependent cigarette smokers," he says. "For those who become regular smokers, about one-half will die prematurely of smoking-related diseases. A lot of people don't realize that people begin dying in their 30s from smoking-related diseases such as emphysema, asthma and cancer."
Ninety percent of smokers begin the habit before 25 years of age, with most of that group beginning between 15 and 19 years, Anderson says. By age 19, one-fifth of the population smokes.
The study was presented at a conference called Simulation in Medical Sciences, sponsored by the Society for Computer Simulation. The study was funded by the Indiana University School of Medicine.
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