Study explores maternal smoking

A new smoking prevention study by two Temple professors is utilizing a mobile app.

Smartphone apps are typically aimed at making our lives easier, but two Temple professors want to see if an app can help change a dangerous habit.

The National Cancer Institute recently granted Drs. Bradley Collins and Stephen Lepore of Temple’s College of Public Health $2.7 million to study the growing number of mothers who smoke.

In their study, the professors plan to modify the NCI quit-smoking app QuitPal to include a “back-end counselor dashboard” and “evidence-based intervention components,” unlike the many other apps available, said Collins, who is also director of the Health Behavior Research Clinic at Temple.

The counselor dashboard will allow counselors more in-depth sight of participants’ smoking behaviors before the counselors’ phone call sessions. It will also allow counselors to track smoking, determine the trigger that causes the urge to smoke and give tips for what to do when there is an urge.

“At least in the very beginning, we are with them from the moment they download it,” Collins said.

The app is just one component of the research study, as Collins and Lepore are working with the Women Infant and Children program, known as WIC, which gives state grants to mothers of infants to 5-year-olds who are found to be at nutritional risk.

“We are going into all the WIC clinics in Philadelphia,” Collins said. “What we do is we are beginning to survey, to understand what the clinics’ practices and attitudes are toward protecting children from secondhand smoke and addressing smoking during pregnancy and maternal smoking with kids up to 6.”

Referrals are then sent and divided between an experimental group and a control group.

“The experimental condition will include the app we talked about, 12 weeks of counseling and nicotine replacement products,” Collins added. “The control group gets whatever advice they get from the clinics, but they won’t get additional smoking advice as part of our trial.”

Assessments are given both at the beginning of the five-year study and at the end, in addition to checkups in between. Collins said the primary focus of the study is to protect children from secondhand smoke, but the app can also help change mothers’ behavior for the future. Mothers were specifically targeted in the study.

“Women who are pregnant postpartum have a harder time quitting,” Collins said. “Sleep deprivation to pain to hormonal shifts that happen during pregnancy—there’s a lot of challenges.”

Medha Raghavendra, a freshman speech-language pathology major, thinks the study will be beneficial to both mothers and children.

“It sets the mother on a good track that can influence the rest of their life,” Raghavendra said. “For children, it can help reduce developmental issues. It benefits everyone.”

The app, in conjunction with the study, could have a major impact on helping smokers throughout the nation quit for the betterment of their family, Collins explained.

“The intervention is designed with what we call pragmatic features that make it easy to be adopted by state quit lines,” he said. “We anticipate if that is the case and the data supports our hypothesis, it will be much better than what is currently being done in community public health clinics.”

“It could be an intervention that is adopted nationwide—the first step is showing that it has some efficacy.”

Jacquelyn Fricke can be reached at

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