Moving Tobacco Education into the Mainstream

In 1996, Scholastic Inc., New York, conducted teacher focus groups on integrating tobacco education into current events and social studies.

Tobacco education materials were for years developed for use predominantly in settings limited to health and physical education classes.

Scholastic Inc., a leading publisher of books and a producer of films and TV shows for children, saw an opportunity to expand such education to social studies and current events classes as a way of reaching and influencing a broader range of students.

The idea was to develop infused tobacco educational material, integrating tobacco-related issues into existing curricula so as to stimulate more creative ways to combine health, social policy, and media literacy as part of tobacco education.

Key Results

  • Four focus groups were held in the fall of 1996—two each in Arizona and Massachusetts—where Scholastic was working in partnership with the state departments of health.

    In both states, one group consisted of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade teachers and the other of seventh- and eighth-grade teachers.

    The groups, each involving 8 to 10 teachers, focused on:

    • Teachers' general reactions to current approaches to substance abuse education.
    • The concept of tying tobacco education materials to current events and social studies.
    • Strategies and approaches most likely to interest teachers in implementing specific tobacco education activities.

    The teachers involved expressed strong support for interdisciplinary educational materials focused on tobacco to be used as supplements to current materials.

    The topics in which they showed the most interest included:

    • The history of tobacco (which was the most popular because it could fit into nearly all of their regular curricula).
    • Popular culture and tobacco issues.
    • Marketing issues.
    • The politics and economics of tobacco.
    • Health care issues.
    • Advocacy issues.

    For the proposed materials, teachers favored:

    • Those with a modular design they could integrate flexibly into existing curricula.
    • Hands-on, activity-based materials.
    • Inclusion of public service announcements, posters, handouts, and videos as teaching tools.
  • The material developed as a result of the focus groups was called Tobacco: A Habit of Exploitation.Scholastic publicized the material's availability through direct mail and other regularly distributed Scholastic materials.

  • Scholastic recruited teachers in Arizona and Massachusetts to pilot test the materials. More than 2,000 teachers made requests, a response rate of nearly 15 percent. The materials were used in multiple classes and reached more than 100,000 students in the two states.

  • Overall, this project found that:

    • Tobacco education happens relatively infrequently (e.g., in health classes only).
    • Teachers are willing to use infused material appropriate for their classes.
    • Teachers can be recruited to use infused materials.
    • If materials are to be developed for teachers to use in their classrooms, educators must have a role in the development process every step of the way.