GottaQuit.com Connects with Teen Smokers

October 04, 2005

GottaQuit.com, a smoking cessation campaign developed by the Monroe County Department of Public Health, effectively reached almost all teens in the county regardless of whether they smoked or not, saturating them with anti-tobacco messages, according to a report by the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The evaluation is of the first community-based quit-smoking program that used both the web and other mass media components to target young people. The study, led by Jonathan D. Klein, M.D., M.P.H., is published in the October edition of the journal Pediatrics.

Klein’s study showed that 94 percent of the post-campaign respondents had seen GottaQuit.com advertisements and one in four teen smokers said they had visited the web site for help in quitting.

Not surprisingly, smokers were more likely than non-smokers to visit GottaQuit.com, and public support for the campaign was high. More studies are needed to determine the impact of such campaigns on actual quitting, the study concludes.

“Web-based health interventions have great potential for reaching teens because this type of media is non-judgmental, confidential and does not require interaction with others,” said Klein, whose specialty is adolescent medicine at the Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Our study demonstrates that teen smokers are highly receptive to Internet-based cessation resources.”

The tobacco industry spends an estimated $7 billion a year to promote cigarettes. In January 2001 the counter-advertising campaign was introduced in Rochester, N.Y., to provide assistance for youths to quit, and to spread an overall anti-tobacco theme. Today the web site is still available (http://www.gottaquit.com) but due to county funding cuts advertising for the campaign has ended and visitors are no longer able to interact with trained counselors who can help them quit.

Previous research has shown that most teen smokers want to quit but are not familiar with cessation programs. Teens also have concerns about confidentiality, parental involvement, and whether they can relate to stop-smoking counselors.

Before the GottaQuit.com media campaign began, the university conducted a telephone survey of 675 random households from a school enrollment-based list, to assess knowledge of teen smoking, cessation resources, and parent-child interaction on the subject. After the campaign was in the field for one year – featuring paid TV, radio, city bus ads, and billboards – the university did a follow-up survey of 333 households. The 2003 Monroe County Youth Risk Behavior Survey also sampled 1,688 teens from 32 area schools. Classroom participation was 87 percent, and students were asked if they had ever visited GottaQuit.com, if they smoked, and if they had tried to quit.

In the first six months of the campaign, more than 27,000 visits to the web site occurred. However, the study was unable to track the proportion of hits to the number of local teen smokers, or whether most hits came from Monroe County. Still, youth smokers reported that they related to the campaign’s themes of addiction and the desire to quit.

Local youth smoking rates are comparable to state and national rates: from 1992-1999 it was estimated that 28 to 38 percent of public high school student smoked, and 66 percent reported they had tried cigarettes. Also, the survey concluded that local teens were 14 when they first smoked (on average), that Caucasians were most likely to be smokers.

Metrix Marketing, Inc. developed GottaQuit.com’s website and advertising under contract with the county. Although county funding was eliminated, Metrix continues to host the website. The county health department supported Klein’s research.

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Leslie Orr
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