Professor Aims To Stop Students From Smoking


Debbie Fritz, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing at Maryville University, has been chosen to present her research on high school smoking at the 20th annual Pacific Nursing Research Conference in Hawaii, from March 22-24.

Fritz conducted her 2003 study as part of her doctoral program at Saint Louis University. The research revolved around high school students’ attitudes toward smoking and included the creation of an innovative, interactive computer program designed to educate smokers about the dangers of the habit and to help them quit. Fritz said she was very pleased to be doing a podium presentation at the three-day national conference.

Her interest in the smoking issue was sparked when, working as a nurse practitioner at an ear, nose and throat practice, she discovered the majority of the high school students smoked. She was shocked at her discovery and at the effect the habit was having on the students’ health.

Fritz got involved with the American Lung Association, where she had the opportunity to observe and implement the organization’s 10-week live program to help smokers quit. She secured $42,000 in research funds from the ALA, and embarked on a mission to develop a program that was more efficient and cost effective than the one offered by the association.

The program Fritz developed was computer-based. It included animated clip-art, videos, and audio clips featuring smokers and non-smokers, many of them friends and members of her own family. The four-week program comprised four 30-minute sessions demonstrating the dangers and effects of smoking, as well as providing instructions on how to begin to quit smoking.

Fritz surveyed two groups of students in her study, but only one group was put through the computer program. Both groups were comprised of students ages 16-19, hailing from a traditional high school as well as from a school serving high-risk students. The group who used the computer program demonstrated a 20 percent quitting rate.

“The kids liked the scary stuff,” said Fritz, speaking of her inclusion of footage of smokers who had to speak through artificial voice boxes and a woman who insisted smoking was not addictive as she proceeded to smoke through her tracheotomy.

Fritz concluded in her study that computers may be a better way than a live program to help high school smokers quit, because the program does not need volunteers and only takes four weeks, making it easier and cheaper to implement. She also believes her program can serve as a better disciplinary tool than suspending students for smoking policy violations, an approach which often only serves to put the youngsters at higher risk.

She also compiled useful data on attitudes and perceptions of smoking among high school students, such as the irrelevance of gender, and students’ beliefs that smoking was not really addictive and that it was possible to quit whenever they felt like it.

Fritz said she was surprised at how difficult it was to recruit students to participate in the study, even when she offered them incentives like movie tickets. She was met with a better response, however, when she offered her participants five dollars per survey. Still, she says, “a lot of students refused to participate in the study because they didn’t want their parents to know (they smoked), even if they were going to get paid.”

Fritz brings her enthusiasm for the subject to Maryville, saying she spends time with her nurse practitioner students, teaching them to counsel smokers who want to stop, including people they might know on campus. In addition, Fritz says she would like to offer her four-week program in schools’ health classes, making it a mandatory module for all students, aimed at both prevention and cessation of smoking.

– by May Ashour, student writer, Marketing and Public Relations