Some Schools Helping Kids Unhook the Smoking Habit
Nov. 14, 2000 -- Along with lunch and homework, some schools are handing out nicotine patches. Here's why: One of every three adolescent smokers eventually will die of a tobacco-related disease. Another way to look at it: Five million people currently under the age of 18 today will die prematurely from disorders linked to cigarettes.
These figures from the National Institute for Drug Abuse underscore the importance of breaking the addiction that researchers have shown can grab a teenager after only 10 puffs, the average amount in one cigarette. According to the CDC, more than 36% of high school students were smoking in 1997, an almost 9% increase over 1991.
Though conflicting figures exist on how many young people smoke, the experts all agree on three things: It's dangerous, it's addictive, and they need to quit.
With those things in mind, some school officials are getting into the role of helping teens break the habit. At least one school district gives nicotine patches and gum to students, and another is considering it.
The plan is not without controversy. Some researchers, doctors, and educators think it's a good route to halt the potentially deadly habit in the approximately 3,000 youngsters who become regular users of tobacco each day. However, many believe that the use of the patch on youngsters has not been thoroughly studied and may not be an effective method for those under age 18.
Jed Rose, PhD, co-inventor of the nicotine patch and director of Duke University's Nicotine Research Program, says he doesn't know of any schools handing out the patch to students. "I doubt that any would be doing that in view of the negative results of a trial with the patch and adolescents," he tells WebMD.
He's referring to research by Richard Hurt, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center in Rochester, Minn. Indeed, the study -- in which about 100 smokers aged 13 to 17 wore the patch for six weeks -- was not a roaring success when it came to getting the teens to kick the habit. At the end of treatment, only 11 were no longer smoking, and by six months, six of those were puffing again.
Nonetheless, Hurt believes that using the patch for adolescents is worthwhile. "In the kids who didn't stop, they significantly reduced their smoking and stayed that way long term," he tells WebMD. All of the students in the study decreased their number of daily cigarettes from an average of 18 to less than three. Doctors followed their progress for a year.
Hurt says that the patch could be a successful antismoking treatment for those under age 18 if they receive more counseling. "We can treat them [with drugs] as we would adults, but we need to be aware of the special needs that teens have," he cautions.