Researchers use peer art to disseminate anti-smoking messages
These posters were deemed highly effective in promoting the anti-smoking message.

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11:04 a.m., Jan. 6, 2010----Researchers at the University of Delaware have discovered that just as peer pressure is an important factor in influencing adolescents to start smoking, peer art may be effective in getting them to stop.

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Supported by the UD Nursing Center and the Delaware Health Fund through the Delaware Division of Public Health's Tobacco Prevention Community Contract, the work was carried out by a team that included Evelyn Hayes, professor in the School of Nursing; Leta Aljadir, associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences; and Ashley Pigford, assistant professor in the Department of Art.

According to a 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control, close to one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 is a smoker.

“Despite numerous anti-smoking campaigns,” says Hayes, “young adults still choose to smoke. College students start or continue smoking due to social influences, stress, image, alcohol, environmental influences, experimentation, and freedom from parental guidance.”

“Prior research has shown that people in this age group want to be shown the long-term adverse effects of smoking,” says Aljadir. “And we're realizing that 'show me, don't tell me' is our best chance of success with this population.”

Working with Pigford -- whose current research, teaching, and studio practice explores the relationship between technology and human experience -- Hayes and Aljadir solicited anti-smoking posters from high school and college students across the state. From the 50 entries received, 15 were selected for further study by a panel including Pigford, Martha Carothers, professor of art, and a nursing student.

The 15 posters were then shown to more than 1,200 freshmen in three UD dining halls. The participants were asked to rate the influence of each poster on their tobacco use decision, to indicate which poster had the most effective antismoking message, and to specify their smoking status and state their future intentions about smoking.

The researchers found a common theme among the three top-rated posters -- death.

“This is an age group whose members think they're invincible,” says Hayes. “Based on what was portrayed in the posters that were rated as most effective, future antismoking campaigns should emphasize the relationship of death to smoking.”

Pigford is gratified to learn that visual art is an effective strategy to use with the 18-24 year old group. “The tobacco industry spends an estimated $26 million a day marketing cigarettes to college students,” he says. “It was very rewarding to me to participate in a project where art was used to make a positive difference, rather than just to sell a product.”

Additional funding will support a follow-on project to be carried out at two additional sites including Delaware State University. “Our initial work showed a difference in the posters selected by males and those selected by females as well as a difference between the choices of smokers and those of nonsmokers,” says Hayes, a nurse practitioner whose work over the past two decades has focused on health promotion initiatives. “We want to vary the demographics to see if we uncover further differences in what is deemed effective.”

She sees the potential for widespread use of such messages -- in movie trailers, at sports arenas, on restroom walls, and even on billboards. “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” Hayes says.

“It's really important to reach this age group,” she adds. “Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., and 80 percent of smokers begin before age 18.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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