Two approaches to convince teenagers to quit smoking and prevent others from starting appear twice as effective as the government's curriculum for teaching life skills, a study has found.
Research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) is being studied by the education department with the view to improving tobacco prevention programmes in schools, as most smokers pick up the habit as teenagers.
Smoking kills an estimated 20000 adults each year and is the single biggest cause of preventable deaths, according to the study's principal investigator Prof Priscilla Reddy, director of the MRC's health promotion research and development unit.
The MRC's study, funded by a five-year grant from the US National Institutes of Health, compared the effect of SA's Revised National Curriculum Life Orientation syllabus with that of a US-developed peer resistance approach (called Life Skills Training), that emphasised abstinence , and an Australian-developed model, based on harm minimisation ( Keep Left).
Two years after getting the lessons, the proportion of teenagers who had smoked had increased just 3% -- from 17% to 20% -- in the two groups of teenagers who had followed the US or Australian system, while smoking had increased six percentage points , from 18% to 24%, in the group that had followed the national curriculum.
The study found that reactions to the US and Australian programmes varied, depending on the race, gender and location of respondents. This prompted the MRC to recommend that both be made available to schools, with guidance on how to choose which one might be most appropriate.
The US Life Skills Training approach was found to be most effective among girls and coloured teenagers, while Australia's Keep Left programme worked best among boys and black teenagers .
The study included 5266 G rade 8 and 9 pupils from 36 public schools in Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Previous research by the MRC found smoking rates were highest among coloured youth in Western Cape and lowest among black youth in KwaZulu-Natal.
The 2002 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey found that the highest smoking rate was among coloured boys (42%), followed by white boys and girls (both 38%), coloured girls (37%), black boys (26%) and black girls (10%).
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