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Researchers from Telethon Kids Institute and Cancer Council WA will team up on two projects aimed at identifying the most effective public health messaging for young people around SunSmart behaviours and how to stop vaping.

Both projects have received just under $100,000 in Exploratory Grants from Healthway under its 2023 Targeted Research Round, which provides funding to eligible organisations for exploratory or formative studies that will address gaps in research and evidence to inform effective health promotion messaging for children and young people within the age ranges of 12 to 24 years.

New SunSmart messaging long overdue

The first project – to be led by Dr Robyn Johnston and Dr Jacinta Francis, from Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia, and Ms Sally Blane (Cancer Council) and Dr Natalia Lizama (Cancer Council and Curtin University) – will focus on finding the most effective strategies to promote sun-protective behaviours in young people aged 14–24 years.

Ms Blane said although the Australian skin cancer prevention program SunSmart had been delivering mass media campaigns in WA for more than 30 years, it had been more than a decade since the last campaign to target young West Australians.

“There is a strong need for research exploring the types of contemporary messaging that will encourage sun protection behaviours among WA young people, to reduce their future risk of skin cancer”, Ms Blane said.

Dr Johnston, a senior researcher with Telethon Kids’ Human Development and Community Wellbeing team, said the researchers would work closely with young people to make sure the messages identified were current, engaging and appealing for the target age group.

“Engaging young people in the development of this messaging is important. Adolescents are vulnerable to the harmful long-term effects of excessive sun exposure, and ultimately skin cancer. Plus, influencing adolescents’ behaviours into adult life is central to achieving lasting change. We’re excited to be collaborating with Cancer Council WA in finding the best ways to get this information across to young people, and grateful to Healthway for supporting this important work”, Dr Johnston said.

The project will survey 14–24-year-olds about their attitudes and behaviours around sun protection and their messaging preferences, before developing pilot strategies. Young people will then help to refine the messaging in resources to be delivered across a range of settings.

The project’s learnings have the potential to be translated into multiple ongoing SunSmart initiatives to be shared by project partners including Cancer Council WA, Telethon Kids, WorkSafeWA, local government, Surfing WA and the Youth Affairs Council of WA.

Helping young people quit e-cigarettes

Dr Johnston and fellow Telethon Kids Institute researcher Dr Natasha Pearce will contribute to a second project, to be led by Dr Lizama from Cancer Council WA and Professor Jonine Jancey from Curtin University’s School of Population Health, which will seek to identify the best ways to tackle the burgeoning problem of e-cigarette use among young people.

Dr Lizama said the proportion of young Australians aged 14–24 using e-cigarettes had increased markedly, and while there was growing evidence around messaging aimed at stopping young people from taking up vaping in the first place, not enough was known about the best ways to help those already using e-cigarettes – many of whom were experiencing nicotine addiction – stop using the devices.

“With increasing numbers of young adults taking up vaping, it is now critical to develop innovative strategies for addressing nicotine dependency and vaping addiction amongst current users of e-cigarettes”, Dr Lizama said.

The project – which will complement a campaign already being developed by Cancer Council to educate young people about the harms of e-cigarettes – will explore the acceptability of vaping cessation messages to young people and their preferred mode of accessing vaping cessation support.

Online focus groups will help to identify and develop vaping cessation messages, which will then be tested with young people via an online survey. The findings will then be used to develop a vaping cessation messaging and support guide.

“Thanks to Healthway this research will enable us to understand the needs and preferences of young people in relation to vaping cessation support. The messaging and support guide developed from the research will help maximise the impact of future vaping-related messaging delivered by Cancer Council, our research partners and stakeholders”, Dr Lizama said.

Partners including Quit, the Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH), Curtin University and Telethon Kids Institute will help to share the messaging.

Funding for the SunSmart Messaging for WA Young People project will be administered via The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, while funding for the project, Acceptability of vaping cessation messages among young people, will be administered via Cancer Council WA.