Preliminary research finds a web-based reward program helps teens and pregnant smokers in Appalachia quit smoking

A new web-based program that uses a reward system to help people quit smoking has shown some promise in Appalachian Kentucky, an area that has some of the highest smoking and smoking-related disease rates in the nation, according to a University of Kentucky news release.

Brady Reynolds (UKNow photo)

The research is led by Brady Reynolds, a native of Appalachian Virginia who works in the Department of Behavioral Science in UK’s College of Medicine. It is testing the “contingency management approach” on adolescents and pregnant smokers from Appalachia who have difficulty traveling to health centers for counseling and could potentially benefit the most from the new strategy.

Contingency management requires participants to log on to a website each day to record videos of themselves measuring the carbon monoxide levels in their blood with a breath test. This information is used to monitor the participants.

As participants cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke, they are rewarded with either money or vouchers for rewards. The more progress they make, the greater the reward. Such programs have been successful with other addictive drugs, such as opiates and cocaine, the release says.

Though each of the studies have been small, they have shown promising results with roughly one-third of pregnant mothers stopping completely, and adolescent cigarette use being cut in half. Even more encouraging, six weeks after the studies concluded, most participants did not relapse.

Reynolds plans to increase the number of participants in future studies to see if these results hold. If they do, his team will work on making the program economically feasible for a larger population, says the release.

“Smoking during pregnancy is the leading cause of low birth weight and pre-term birth, and these infants often spend substantial time in neonatal intensive care units,which can be very costly for hospitals and insurers,” Reynolds said. “If we find our smoking cessation programs reduce preterm birth, then we can start making the argument to stakeholders for implementing the programs on a larger scale.”

One of the challenges associated with the program is the lack of broadband Internet in the region. The release notes that more than 95 percent of Reynolds’ participants needed to borrow Internet equipment for the studies.

The research is conducted out of the Appalachian Health Research Center near Morehead and is supported in part by UK’s Markey Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Endowed Chair in Rural Health Policy at UK. Reynolds and Tyrone “Ty” Borders of the UK College of Public Health are the co-chairs.
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