The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is leading a $2.9 million National Cancer Institute project to increase demand for evidence-based, Internet-based smoking cessation treatment for young adults aged 18 to 24 years.

Surprisingly, this age group has the highest rate of smoking compared to any other age group, psychology professor Robin Mermelstein, principal investigator of the 5-year study, noted in a UIC podcast. In fact, smoking starts to escalate between the ages of 18 and 24, and even though many young adults think about quitting and actually want to stop, they have among the lowest rates of quitting and trying to quit.

When young adult smokers do try to kick the habit, Mermelstein said, they tend not to use what we know works. A lot of young adults don't actually think that treatments work or they think they are better off using home-grown or naturalistic kinds of approaches and tend to shun evidence-based approaches.

Mermelstein and colleagues at UIC, in partnership with the University of Iowa and the American Legacy Foundation, will work with the GDS&M Idea City advertising agency to develop interactive, Internet-based ads and evaluate what messages motivate young smokers to use

This is a very effective and engaging evidence-based stop smoking program developed by the American Legacy Foundation, Mermelstein noted. To reach young adult smokers, you have to go where they are and the Internet is it, Mermelstein said.

Another key goal of the project, Mermelstein said, is to find strategies to build their motivation; to get the young adult smoker to think now is the time to quit -- not 5 years from now, not 10 years from now, but right now.

The nationwide study will enroll more than 3,000 young smokers via the Internet, recruiting through sites like Craigslist.