Feds Spend Half a Million Dollars Texting Rural Americans to Stop Dipping


Farmer Trevor Bass assists his grandmother Evertice Bass in one of his tobacco fields at his farm in Newberry, Fla.
Farmer Trevor Bass assists his grandmother Evertice Bass in one of his tobacco fields at his farm in Newberry, Fla. / AP
August 19, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is spending nearly a half million dollars to text rural Americans motivational messages so they can stop dipping.

The government contends that the rate of people using smokeless tobacco in rural areas—estimated to be one in 10—is too high, and approved the study it described as an "innovative intervention."

"Rural Americans are a vulnerable group at high risk for tobacco-related illness," according to the federal grant for the project. "Smokeless tobacco use is high among rural Americans at 11 [percent] and has not decreased significantly in the past decade. Rural Americans who want to quit have access to few innovative interventions. This is a significant missed opportunity for tobacco control in this population."

The "TextTo4GoSmokelessTobacco" proposal says that its work will be important because no one has ever sent text messages to men in Middle America on how to quit chewing tobacco.

"This will be the first SMS texting intervention using [Scheduled Gradual Reduction] SGR with smokeless tobacco users targeting rural smokeless tobacco users who lack access to innovative and effective interventions," the grant said. "If successful, this study can be easily disseminated to rural smokeless tobacco users to aid in cessation, thus helping to decrease tobacco related health disparities."

The project will text smokeless tobacco users "support messages" for three years. The study has cost taxpayers $477,000 so far, though its budget does not expire until July 2016.

Devon Noonan, an assistant professor at Duke University who is leading the study, said the encouraging texts would be based on the "Health Belief Model."

"Part of our study involves developing the message library and piloting it with smokeless tobacco users – so all I can say now is that counseling messages will be based on constructs of the Health Belief Model (perceived benefits, susceptibility, barriers, motivation and self-efficacy)," Noonan said. "Messages will ask questions for the participants to think about or suggest that they think about specific topics."