Lynn E. Fiellin, M.D., associate professor of medicine and in the Yale Child Study Center, has spent much of her recent career determining how best to use video games to empower adolescents to avoid risky behaviors that affect life outcomes. Fiellin’s work has just received a substantial boost in the form of a $1.4 million gift from the CVS Health Foundation. The three-year gift is a part of “Be The First,” a $50 million commitment by CVS Health to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation.

This gift aims to further smoking prevention by helping to bring smokeSCREEN, a game Fiellin’s group has developed, to a broader audience across the United States. The game, currently played on an iPad, conveys anti-tobacco messaging via character-based graphic novel-like images and multiple-choice questions. Results of a New Haven- and Los Angeles-based study indicate a significant impact on health risk perceptions and knowledge about both cigarette and electronic cigarette use among young people exposed to smokeSCREEN.

The game is part of a series that has focused on HIV prevention, sexual risk, drugs, alcohol, bullying, and cheating, Fiellin says, and has recently been expanded with additional NIH and Food and Drug Administration funding to significantly emphasize smoking prevention. Among other support, in 2009 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded her a $4 million, five-year grant to support research on using the games to influence adolescent behavior. In 2015, Fiellin founded the Center for Health & Learning Games at the School of Medicine, which focuses on serious game development and evaluation, and their applications to health and behavioral science.

CVS first approached Fiellin in March of this year, two years after it made headlines by announcing plans to ban all cigarette sales at its stores. “That spoke volumes to me,” Fiellin says, noting the company’s commitment to smoking prevention even though its decision to stop selling cigarettes cut off a significant source of revenue. “CVS showed they were speaking with their feet,” she says. “This is an opportunity to really get this game out there in a meaningful way such that it can become part of the after-school experience.” The new aim is to implement smokeSCREEN nationally in 2018, following the launch of a pilot program this fall with a group of national partners led by CVS.

“Through our support of Yale’s smokeSCREEN gaming app we do hope to reach more youth and young adults who use tobacco or who are at risk of becoming regular tobacco users, encouraging them to quit or discouraging them from ever starting to smoke,” says Eileen Howard Boone, president of the CVS Health Foundation and senior vice president of corporate social responsibility & philanthropy at CVS Health. “Over the next year, we’re aiming to expose hundreds of thousands of students to the game, which is a very unique approach to cessation and tobacco control.”

The CVS Health Foundation, created by CVS Health more than 25 years ago, works with nonprofit entities throughout the U.S. to support and expand health care for underserved populations, create innovative approaches to chronic disease management, provide tobacco cessation and youth prevention programming, and mitigate prescription drug abuse.