UT public health researchers to develop web program to help smokers quit

Diego Cruz

UT will no longer offer classes to help smokers quit — but a new web-based program may replace them.

The UT School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus is developing a free interactive seven-step program designed to help smokers quit over the Internet.

Emily Morris, School of Public Health graduate student and designer of the project, said low attendance led to the University Health Services cancelling in-person classes provided to help students and faculty quit smoking.

“We’ve decided that a peer model program is the best way to go,” Morris said.

The peer model program will share stories and methods from former smokers within UT’s community who have successfully learned how to quit, Morris said.

She said the program would help smokers identify their addiction and understand what encouraged them to smoke in the first place. She said participants would be able to access the program at any time and that it would help them build habits that could reduce their smoking.

Alfred McAlister, adjunct associate professor of behavioral sciences at the School of Public Health and lead designer of the project, said about 70 percent of smokers already want to quit but simply need more motivation to succeed.

“One of the most effective things to do is not to tell people that they should quit but show how other people have done it,” McAlister said.

McAlister analyzed past smoking cessation programs and identified the most effective ones were the most interactive and allowed smokers to share their quitting experiences.

He said registered participants would be contacted after the completion of the program to check on their progress so that the program would constantly evolve to improve effectiveness.

UT’s smoking policy was the subject of scrutiny by the Student Government last semester.

Matt Daley, former SG representative and columnist at The Daily Texan, participated in passing a resolution that called for UT to restrict smoking on campus.

“We didn’t support a full ban, because we felt it wouldn’t respect some people in campus,” Daley said.

Although the resolution did not advance beyond the initial planning stages, Daley said it is an issue that is often brought up and will one day pass.

Savannah Smith, studio art junior and smoker, said a complete ban of smoking on campus would frustrate people more than it would help them quit.

“I’ve read a few things about campuses not allowing smoking at all and that really bothers me because so many people do smoke, and we have a right to smoke,” Smith said.

Although she never considered quitting, Smith said constructive approaches work better than critical ones, and smokers need an understanding environment to help them quit.

The program developers are currently seeking former smokers to volunteer as peer models in the project and expect it to be available in August.

Printed on 06/23/2011 as: UT moves to online model to help student smokers