Vocational Education Students: A Difficult-to-Reach Population at Risk for Smoking-Related Cancer

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Vocational Education Students: A Difficult-to-Reach Population at Risk for Smoking-Related Cancer

ABSTRACT: Vocational education high school students comprise a significant proportion of the

school-based population. Recent studies indicate vocational education students are at greater risk

for cigarette smoking behavior than their non-vocational education counterparts. Vocational

students have higher prevalence rates of smoking than do non-vocational

students and are more likely to report that they expect to be smoking in the future.

Characteristics of adolescent who participate in vocational education and their cigarette smoking

behavior are reviewed, as well as the need to develop, implement, and evaluate new educational

approaches designed to prevent cigarette smoking and the use of other tobacco products in this

difficult-to-reach population. (J Sch Health 1989;59(5):195-198)

Vocational education represents an integral and important part of America's educational system. Nationwide, more than 10 million students are enrolled in vocational education programs in more than 17,000 schools.[1,2] Although vocational education students comprise a significant proportion of the high school population, few health education programs have been designed specifically to address the health concerns and unique needs of this difficult-to-reach population.

Perhaps most striking among the health concerns that place this group at special risk for cancer is the high prevalence rate of cigarette smoking among vocational education students. As Glynn[3] noted, antismoking education programs have been reasonably successful in preventing the behavior among most youth. However, these programs have largely failed to reach, or are perhaps less relevant or not as effective for, adolescents who pursue vocational education.

In this paper, characteristics of adolescents who participate in vocational education programs are reviewed. Data from a recent survey[4] conducted by the American Cancer Society showing that these students continue to be at greater risk for developing cancer than nonvocational students also are presented. An agenda for future research and the development of new educational approaches that are designed specifically to prevent cigarette smoking and the use of other tobacco products among youth in vocational education also are presented.


Vocational education programs provide training to prepare adolescents for occupations in business, health-related, technical, service, mechanical, and trade and industrial fields. Such an education provides youth an opportunity to acquire entry-level skills for future employment and to demonstrate competence in environments similar to those in business and industry. The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-524) strengthened vocational education in the United States and provided support for school-based training or retraining programs that can be expected to facilitate those completing such programs to obtain gainful employment. The Act also specifies that the training be suited to the particular educational needs, interest, and abilities of those participating in vocational education.[2]

Levels of Participation

According to McCaslin,[5] almost 80% of all U.S. high school students take at least one vocational education course. These students can be differentiated according to the extent of their participation in vocational education courses. The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, which has conducted and published several studies relevant to vocational education, has identified categories of the level of participation. Categories include:

Concentrators -- students who average three years of coursework in a particular vocational program area;

Limited Concentrators -- students who average two years of coursework in a vocational program area;

Concentrator/Explorers -- students who take less than two years of vocational education, with few taking vocational courses in the later years of high school;

Explorers -- students who take courses in three or more vocational subjects, but never develop an area specialty; and

Incidental/Personals -- students who take usually only one vocational education course. …