Smartphones, GPS part of UH scientist's smoking cessation research

October 17, 2013

We use them to text, tweet, post and, sometimes, make a call. Now, smartphones are helping with public health research.

A recently published study conducted by a researcher affiliated with the University of Houston includes a technique called "geo-mapping," which makes use of GPS technology to pinpoint a study participant's location and the location of tobacco retail outlets nearby.

The study was published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

"We're examining the possible mechanisms underlying the relationship between being close to a tobacco retail outlet and not being able to successfully ," said Lorraine Reitzel, associate professor of health in the UH College of Education. "We think it's because tobacco retail outlets might cue a greater urge to smoke within the person attempting to quit, maybe because of product advertising, a learned association between the retail outlet and purchasing cigarettes, or simply the greater availability and access to cigarettes that a close retail outlet provides."

Reitzel is part of a growing health department at the college. Recruited from MD Anderson Cancer Center, her research focuses on understanding individual and environmental influences that lead to health risk behaviors. She's interested in developing tobacco dependence interventions for low socio-economic areas and groups.

"I'm interested in better understanding whatever is preventing these smokers from successfully quitting, and then learning how to tailor treatments or public policy to help them," she said.

Participants carried a smart phone to collect data about their real-time, in-the-moment experiences throughout their daily travels during the quitting process. The study examined data collected from them before quitting through one week after their "quit day."

"When people were answering questions about their urge to smoke, we knew where they were," she said. "We used that information to better understand what the tobacco retailer outlet environment was like around them at the same moment they were describing their urge."

The smartphone research suggested that it wasn't the number of locations to purchase cigarettes that increased the urge to smoke, but the proximity of the closest tobacco retail outlet to the participant's home. When people responded from home, those living closer to tobacco reported greater urges to smoke than those living farther from outlets.

"From a policy perspective, this suggests that if we are going to help people quit smoking, especially those in lower income areas, which tend to have a higher prevalence of tobacco stores, we need to think about disallowing the sale of tobacco products in close proximity to residential areas to make it more difficult to get tobacco when the urge to smoke strikes," Reitzel said. "If people can't access cigarettes within three to five minutes, the urge to smoke usually passes."

Reitzel's research was funded by the UT Health Science Center School of Public Health, the American Cancer Society and MD Anderson Cancer Center, among others.

"Many people try to quit smoking upwards of eight, nine, 10 times before they're successful," she said. "For the rest of their lives they have to be vigilant and fight to stay -free."

Explore further: Game on: Tobacco-Free Teens app goes live on iTunes

Related Stories

Game on: Tobacco-Free Teens app goes live on iTunes

August 8, 2013
An app to prevent teens from smoking and encourage them to quit if they've started is now just a few taps away and available free on the Apple iTunes Store.

Contraband tobacco use hinders smoking cessation

March 4, 2013
People who smoke low-cost contraband cigarettes in Canada are less likely to stop smoking in the short term compared with people who smoke more expensive premium or discount cigarettes, according to a study published in CMAJ ...

40 AGs urge tight regulation of e-cigarettes

September 24, 2013
Forty attorneys general are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to meet its own deadline and regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way it regulates tobacco products.

Study of cigarette and waterpipe tobacco smoking shows knowledge gap in perceived health risks

September 25, 2012
People who smoke both cigarettes and waterpipes – dual users – lack sufficient knowledge about the risks of tobacco smoking and are at considerable risk for dependence and tobacco-related diseases, such as cancer, heart ...

Nicotine lozenges, tobacco-free snuff help smokeless tobacco users quit, study finds

February 19, 2013
Smokeless tobacco users who said they didn't want to quit changed their minds or significantly cut back when given nicotine lozenges or tobacco-free snuff in a Mayo Clinic study. The findings are published in the February ...

Recommended for you

State-level disclosure laws affect patients' eagerness to have their DNA tested

December 12, 2017
Different types of privacy laws in U.S. states produce markedly different effects on the willingness of patients to have genetic testing done, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT professor.

Babies born during famine have lower cognition in midlife

December 12, 2017
Hunger and malnutrition in infancy may lead to poor cognitive performance in midlife, according to a new study.

'Man flu' may be real

December 11, 2017
The much-debated phenomenon of "man flu" may have some basis in fact, suggests an article published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Full moon linked to increased risk of fatal motorcycle crashes

December 11, 2017
The full moon is associated with an increased risk of fatal motorcycle crashes in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, finds a study in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Social media trends can predict tipping points in vaccine scares

December 11, 2017
Analyzing trends on Twitter and Google can help predict vaccine scares that can lead to disease outbreaks, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

Study suggests being proud may protect against falls in older people

December 11, 2017
Contrary to the old saying "pride comes before a fall", the opposite appears to be true, according to a study published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.