case western reserve university



Case dentists to snuff out smokeless tobacco use in school children

A new grant to the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine will curb smokeless tobacco (ST) use in middle school students by relaying the message of its dangers and creating strong anti-tobacco attitudes before habits develop. The project also encourages pre-teens to influence family members to seek help in kicking the habit.

Lance Vernon ( DMD, MPH) a research associate at the dental school, is the principal investigator on the one-year, $239,000 grant from the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation (TUPCF) for his Smokeless Tobacco Use Pilot Project. Catherine Demko (PhD) is the project's co-investigator.

"Smokeless tobacco is an underestimated and misunderstood killer of Ohioans," said Mike Renner, TUPCF executive director.

Vernon will pilot an intervention program, targeting 5th through 7th grade students in 15 schools and in 10 summer sports programs in the Ohio's rural Appalachian counties of Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan, Washington and Vinton where ST use is higher (6.6 percent) than other parts (2.8 percent) of the state.
The investigators state that they hope to reach students just before peer pressures from family and friends influence them to take up tobacco use.

ST—also known as spit, snuff or plug tobacco—is highly addictive with higher concentrations of nicotine entering the body through the delicate lining in the mouth. Just like cigarettes, using smokeless tobacco increases health risks for cancers and cardiovascular and periodontal diseases.

"People do not realize how addictive smokeless tobacco is," stated Vernon. Smoking in general is highly addictive and this is not appreciated, especially in children," states Vernon. He will face cultural, social and economic challenges in the Appalachian communities where tobacco is grown and its use a part of its social culture.

While the use of ST is primarily a male habit, the grant targets girls and boys when they are vulnerable to the influences of parents who role model ST use or pressure from peers who tend to begin using it between the ages of 13 and 18 years old. A 2002 Ohio Department of Health study revealed that 11.8 percent of Ohio's male high school students had used ST in the last 30 days.

"We believe that this age group is generally the most receptive to considering and adopting positive health messages," said Vernon.

Vernon and Demko will work with a field coordinator from the Athens County Department of Jobs and Family Service Agency. They will craft a curriculum by using previously developed materials and tailoring them into a relevant, hoands-on and interactive presentation.

Sources for their curriculum materials will come from:

  • The Ohio Dental Association's "Teens Against Tobacco in Community" (TACTIC)
  • Oral Health America's National Spit Tobacco Education Program
  • Summer Multi-disciplinary Innovative Learning Experience (SMILE), a collaborative program developed jointly by students from Case's Schools of Dental Medicine, Medicine and Nursing in the summer of 2003, with the help of teens from the Cleveland Municipal School District

Another key element of the project is the development of a Web-based resource that can be used as a source of information on ST and inspiration to quitting its use. The project will launch the site through the existing health resource of—an internet health site that is collaboratively run by Case, the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University.

According to Vernon, the Web site will be highly interactive, visual and teen friendly. The site will provide anti-tobacco and cessation information in a manner that is accessible for children, teens and adults, added Vernon.

Students will take pre- and post-test evaluations to asses the effectiveness of the anti-tobacco presentations.

"An important aspect of this prevention program is to encourage youth to quit. If their parents are tobacco users, we want to 'gently encourage' them to quit by offering a variety of resources to help them," stated Vernon.

In addition to the Case grant, TUPCF, which was established with money from the settlement of the tobacco law suits and provides funds to support anti-tobacco education, awarded support to Ohio State University College of Dentistry for an adult cessation program and the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina to provide a data analysis of ST product use.


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.