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Older role models a new tool to break smoking cycle in the NT

Date posted: 8 August 2017

As part of a study by Menzies School of Health Research, older students at a middle school and high school in the Northern Territory (NT) were chosen as peer leaders to help break the cycle of smoking for younger children in the region.

Dr Gabrielle McCallum, from Menzies School of Health Research, said most young people took up smoking aged 15, but in remote communities there were children aged 12 and 13 who were taking up the habit. 'We want to try and reach this age group before peer pressure starts...and to really create that environment where young people can have the power to say, well, actually, I don't want to smoke,' she said.

Dr McCallum hopes that targeting children will help break the smoking cycle before they become adults. 'We really want to target all children, but particularly our young girls where we still have high rates of smoking in pregnancy, in some of our work we've seen between 50 to 60% of our mums still smoking,' she noted. 'If we can prevent our young girls taking up smoking from the start, their lung health and their future children's lung health will be much better.'

The older peer leader students are provided with a training program based on modules and scripted lessons, which they then pass on over time to fellow students. 'The aim of the program is to create an environment where it's cool not to take up smoking, but also teaching young people about asthma, what to do in an asthma emergency,' Dr McCallum said. 'Afterwards it actually built that relationship between the older students at the school and the younger students, so it built these positive relationships, which the teachers also told us was really effective.'

Dr McCallum said the program was shown to be feasible in the Northern Territory and it led to the diagnoses of some children with asthma, and one with another condition called bronchiectasis. There have been two small randomised controlled trials in New South Wales (NSW) that have shown the program improved asthma outcomes and reduced the uptake of smoking. However, more work is required to prove the program is effective and the best way forward for schools. Dr McCallum and her team hope to expand the program into a large international trial, encompassing a minimum of 20 schools in NSW, the Northern Territory and in Canada.

Source: ABC

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Last updated: 8 August 2017
 
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute