Professor Jennifer Warren Spearheads Program to Battle Childhood Asthma

Professor Jennifer Warren Spearheads Program to Battle Childhood Asthma

Her workshops teach parents of children in daycare about the dangers of exposure to tobacco smoke

Jennifer Warren

Jennifer Warren, assistant professor at the School of Communication and Information

exposure to tobacco smoke, according to the

American Lung Association, leads to about 202,000 asthma
episodes, 790,000 physician visits for ear infections and 430 cases of SIDS
each year. Jennifer Warren, an assistant professor at the
of Communication and Information
aims to change those statistics with a community program she founded in Minnesota
and hopes to bring to New Jersey. The program teaches parents of children in daycare
about the dangers of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and how to
minimize risks. Warren, who came to Rutgers in 2009, focuses
on health communication in her research and teaching, specifically examining
low-income, inner-city, and immigrant communities. She is a principal
investigator on two grants totaling more than $200,000, both addressing smoking
cessation education in the African-American community.

Rutgers Today: How did
you get into researching children’s exposure to ETS?

While doing post-doctoral work at the University of Minnesota’s Program in
Health Disparities Research five years ago, I was looking to enroll my daughter
in daycare.  I found a center I liked and,
to my surprise, was asked to fill out an asthma action plan. Although my
daughter didn’t suffer from asthma, the director said that about half of the
children in the program did and thought it would be good to keep plans for all
students. When I asked why so many had asthma, the director explained the
majority of parents smoked enough that she could smell smoke on the children’s
clothing. I asked the director if she’d be interested in working with me on writing
a grant and setting up community programs to address issues of tobacco
exposure. We received the grant from ClearWay, a nonprofit state health
organization, and began the program – “Set the Rules Curriculum: Arming
Yourself against the Harms of Tobacco Smoke.”

Rutgers Today: How did
the workshops come about? How is it helping with children’s exposure?

The curriculum evolved from the community studies. We used a peer approach, pairing
parents with trained daycare providers to teach about the dangers of ETS and
how to prevent exposure. In this way, the information became less threatening
to the parents since it was not coming from a doctor, but from people they knew,
some who may even be smokers themselves. We went directly to the daycare facilities
to meet with parents. Our goal was to make sure that parents do not feel like
they are being judged or seen as bad parents. The curriculum
is tailored to the community and provides a message about the harmful side
effects of tobacco smoke without alienating parents.

Rutgers Today: What can
childcare providers
about protecting children from exposure?

Warren: The
focus of the workshops is to educate parents on issues of exposure through
second and the lesser known third-hand smoke – residual nicotine and chemicals that linger in carpets, sofas, and other materials long after smoking has stopped.  We educate parents on how toxins in tobacco
smoke - such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia – endanger a
child’s health.  We then talk to them
about setting restrictions at home. We try to get them to agree to completely
restrict smoking anywhere in the home or near the premises. If that isn’t
possible, we ask if they could enforce partial restrictions, like going outside
to have a cigarette or only smoking when the kids are not home. Nothing is
forced on the parents. It is their decision what type of restrictions they are
willing to impose on themselves and their household.

Rutgers Today: How is
it that children of non-smoking parents are also exposed to ETS?

Among lower-income, African-American parents (predominately single mothers), we
found many instances in which a non-smoking parent has to work and is forced to
leave her child with someone who may smoke, like a grandmother.  Another way children get exposed is via attached
housing units that have no rules about smoking. We teach parents who don’t
smoke strategies to help avoid exposure and provide them with suggestions on
how to set up smoking restrictions that we think will work.

Rutgers Today: Have you
experienced any resistance to the workshops?

In Minnesota, one parent walked out. She was a smoker and felt like she was
being blamed for causing harm to her child.  Although our goal is not to condemn, some people
just don’t hear that message. We have also gotten resistance from a few daycare
centers because directors weren’t sure how to integrate the workshop.  Other centers have only invited small groups
when we believe the message should be provided to a larger audience. It’s a
challenge that we need to work on for future trials.

Rutgers Today: Do you
have any plans on bringing your workshops to New Jersey?

I would love to bring the program here. 
I am waiting to see what happens in Minnesota, and based on feedback
from daycare providers, trainers, and parents, plan to tweak the curriculum.
Once that happens, I would be interested in launching the program in Trenton,
where I was born and raised. There are so many impoverished families in the
city who I feel many could benefit from education about ETS.


Media Contact: Ken Branson
(732) 932-7084 ext. 633