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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 26, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 32
SPH Helps High School Girls Produce Anti-Smoking Messages for Television

By Kenna Brigham
School of Public Health

Twelve Baltimore area high school girls recently spent one of their coveted days off from school to tape four television public service announcements at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. One PSA shows ways to reduce stress by playing sports, dancing, reading or talking on the phone rather than smoking. A second shows a girl whose teeth are yellowed from smoking being rejected by a boy who saw cigarettes in her purse.

The PSAs are part of a study that was funded by the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund Program and led by Barbara Curbow, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. To guide the study, she created a committee called Teen Girls Against Smoking, whose members were recruited from Baltimore city and county to reflect ethnic and school differences.

Curbow is looking into the reasons why teenage girls start smoking and ways to change those behaviors.

More than 100 girls, including the seven committee members, were interviewed about a variety of smoking-related 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.

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. According to the Centers for Disease Control 1999 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 8 percent of middle school girls and 28 percent of high school girls smoke. Reasons girls initially started smoking were different from those of boys, and therefore anti-smoking messages must be tailored by gender. A recent Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls showed that smoking rates were higher for girls with depression, low self-confidence and a history of abuse.

"The most important thing is recognizing that girls sometimes turn to smoking because of stress or feelings of depression," Curbow said. "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 checkups many children have while growing up."

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. Curbow hopes to work with other teen girls to develop four additional PSAs. She also hopes to look into the most effective message for smokers versus nonsmokers to see if they differ.


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