Helping Young Smokers Quit: Identifying Best Practices for Tobacco Cessation

An RWJF National Program

Dates of Program: July 2001 to December 2009

Field of Work: Youth smoking cessation

Problem Synopsis: There were at least 4 million smokers under age 18 in 2000. Although many young smokers wanted to quit, little was known about what strategies or programs would work best for them. Most evaluations of youth cessation programs were tightly controlled studies in which interventions were evaluated under optimal conditions. Less was known about the effectiveness of programs delivered in real-world settings.

Synopsis of the Work: Helping Young Smokers Quit: Identifying Best Practices for Tobacco Cessation ran from 2001 through 2009. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health located and created an inventory of 756 tobacco-cessation programs for people ages 12 to 24 and surveyed 591 of those programs regarding their content, format, sponsoring organization, and characteristics of people served. They evaluated 41 smoking-cessation programs serving youth ages 14 to 18 to identify factors associated with recruitment, retention, and quit rates and identified and described programs that were sustained over time and those that were discontinued.

Key Results

  • "Through Helping Young Smokers Quit, we demonstrated the feasibility of evaluating existing programs outside of a tightly structured randomized controlled trial," said the program directors, Susan J. Curry, PhD, and Robin J. Mermelstein, PhD. "We developed a uniform, replicable process for finding and evaluating programs. We believe that this methodology could be used to identify and evaluate other real-world programs, such as weight control programs, as well."

Key Findings

  • Among the findings reported by program directors Curry and Mermelstein in several publications and presentations and in a personal interview:

    • Surveyed programs displayed considerable homogeneity. Most were multisession, school-based group programs that served a modest number of youths per year. Program content included the same cognitive-behavioral elements found in evidenced-based adult programs, along with content more specific to adolescence.
    • Community-based, real-world, teen smoking-cessation programs that use evidence-based curricula and have written training manuals have outcomes equivalent to outcomes found in more tightly controlled, laboratory-type, studies.
    • By the end of the 41 evaluated programs, 74 percent of participating youth had tried to quit smoking and 14 percent had been abstinent for seven days.