Smoking prevention: what benefits are indicated by a pilot school drug education programme that focuses on minimising harm?
Faculty of Education and Arts
Office of Assoc Dean - Research and Higher Degrees (FEA)
Background: This pilot study investigated the smoking prevention benefits of a secondary school drug education programme for all-licit and illicit drugs. The programme took a harm minimisation approach and incorporated abstinence as one of a range of prevention strategies. Method: The study population comprised a cohort of 318 Victorian junior secondary school students (intervention N = 225 in three schools, control N = 93 in one school). During Years 8 (13-14-year-olds) and 9 (14-15-yearolds), the intervention students received a 22-lesson programme derived from evidence of effective practice and aimed at minimising the harm associated with drug use. Control students received the drug education programme normally provided by their school. Results: Students who received the intervention remembered receiving more lessons about smoking and were more knowledgeable about drug use issues overall. They were no less likely to take up smoking, but those who did smoke, reported smoking fewer cigarettes and experiencing fewer harms associated with their smoking. Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that a harm minimisation approach to smoking can complement, rather than threaten, the abstinence message for adolescents. A school drug education programme with a harm reduction focus does not increase initiation into smoking and can equip smokers with the understanding and skills to make better decisions regarding use.