ASSIST: A stop smoking in schools trial

ASSIST: A stop smoking in schools trial
teenager smoking

Smoking is the largest single cause of preventable illness in the UK. Over the last decade the number of adult smokers has fallen - whilst the number of teenage smokers has risen.

Prior to ASSIST, there had been no strong evidence to show the effectiveness of anti-smoking programmes in UK schools. Schools in many countries undertake smoking prevention programmes but there has been mixed evidence of their effectiveness. In the past, most peer-led approaches have been classroom-based and rigorous assessments are scarce.

It was in response to this challenge that Professor Laurence Moore (formerly School of Social Sciences and DECIPHer, now Glasgow University) and Professor Rona Campbell (University of Bristol) developed and evaluated the ASSIST programme, funded by the Medical Research Council.

The peer supporters approach

The DECIPHer-ASSIST trial recruited peer-nominated students aged 12-13 as 'peer supporters'. They were taught how to intervene with their Year 8 peers in everyday situations to discourage them from smoking. Training was given outside of the school environment.

The trial followed the students for two years to see whether smoking prevalence in the intervention schools was lower than in the schools which did not receive the training. It demonstrated that the programme changed the minds of about 20% of young people who would otherwise have gone onto start smoking.

Reducing uptake

Due to the success of the trial a new not-for-profit company, DECIPHer IMPACT was set up in March 2010 to licence the ASSIST programme. The company gives training, materials, support and ongoing quality assurance to local authorities in England and NHS Boards in Scotland.

Since 2010, more than 120,000 Year 8 students have taken part in ASSIST. The evidence-based research suggests that approximately 2,200 young people will not go on to take up smoking as a result. In 2017, the programme expanded to France. The programme has generated £1.5M of sales to date.

The treatment of lung cancer in England cost the NHS £260.8million during 2009/10. If implemented throughout the UK, it is estimated that the ASSIST programme would prevent 20,000 young people taking up smoking each year.

Image credit: Cardiff university

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