NYUCD is set to launch an innovative new smoking prevention program aimed at preteens 8 to 14 years of age. According to Dr. Andrew I. Spielman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, who developed the program, "Current smoking prevention programs aimed at this demographic tend to fail for several reasons. First, peer pressure to smoke is a major factor. Second, most smoking prevention programs are concerned with the longterm impact on the individual, a concept that is lost on youngsters who don’t think about what will happen to them later in life. Our approach is exactly the opposite. We aim to achieve a shortterm, collective impact that will use reverse peer pressure to prevent preteens from smoking."
The chief mechanism that Dr. Spielman believes will help to achieve these objectives is a threebyfour inch "scratch and sniff" card* that features nicotinestained teeth and fingers and emits a disgusting odor when scratched with a thumbnail. The idea is that youngsters will instantly understand how rank they smell if they smoke, and will pressure their peers away from smoking by telling them, "You Stink!"
Along with the "scratch and sniff" card, Dr. Spielman has adapted a software technology that allows a youngster to see the aging effects of smoking on his or her face 20 to 30 years from now. The focus is on the youngsters’ physical appearance, rather than on what their lungs will look like in the future.
A pilot version of the program will begin in fall 2007 in NYU’s pediatric dental clinic. With parental consent, every child between the ages of 8 and 14 will be enrolled in the program at no charge. The children will be divided into four groups:
- Group one will use the "scratch and sniff" cards.
- Group two will be exposed to the aging software.
- Group three will use both the "scratch and sniff" cards and the aging software.
- Group four will be the control group. The youngsters in this group will be exposed to a conventional antismoking program using neither of the new antismoking strategies.
The children will be monitored at sixmonth intervals as part of the regular pediatric dentistry recall program. After the first year of operation, results will show which strategy works best and on which age group. Subsequently, a larger program will be introduced to local public schools.
"We will track the youngsters from the time they begin the program until they turn 17," says Dr. Spielman. "Since most youngsters start to smoke by age 17, if results show that the majority of adolescents participating in the program have not started by that age or have quit right after they started, the program’s effectiveness will be proven. Once the data are established, we plan to disseminate the program to private dentists and to any institution that deals with children and has an antismoking program."
According to Dr. Spielman, dentists, especially pediatric dentists and orthodontists, are in an exceptional position to implement this program. "Just think," he says, "orthodontists are the only pediatric healthcare providers who see youngsters every four to six weeks. What a wonderful opportunity for reinforcement and follow up! And pediatric dentists see youngsters in all age groups and in a less threatening environment than pediatricians do— another reason why these dentists are in a privileged position to make the program work.
"As dentists we have both an opportunity and an obligation to provide primary health care. The oral cavity is the window to the health of the body. We look at oral cancer, or we should; we look at child abuse; why not look at smoking prevention? Sometimes dentists look in the mouth but don’t necessarily see all that there is to see. Taking up the cause of smoking prevention allows us to add an important new dimension to our professional capabilities as primary healthcare providers."
*Editor's Note: Cards are in production.