Peer-led interventions, "quit kits" prove successful quitting tools for young smokers

Five-minute interventions, “quit kits” and information delivered by peers all proved to be successful strategies for getting through to young smokers, research out of the University of California-Davis reports.

Lead author Elisa K. Tong, MD, MA, and colleagues published the results of their smoking-cessation study in the Journal of Community Health this week. Tong said in a release from UC-Davis that nearly all long-term smokers had first tried a cigarette by age 26, suggesting the habit is ingrained early on in addiction-prone adolescent brains.

To combat this statistic, Tong et al. assembled a “Street Team” of 28 high school and college students who set up small booths at 27 street fairs, concerts, malls, weekend art walks and other community events in the Sacramento, California, area over the course of four years. The Street Team was responsible for reaching out to younger smokers—which they did, successfully, with 279—and leading them in a conversation about smoking cessation. The five- to ten-minute interventions included one-on-one talks about tobacco, motivational messages, referrals to quitting resources and what the team called “quit kits”—water bottles filled with smoking alternatives like gum, toothpicks, honey sticks and stress balls.

Tong and her colleagues followed up with 76 participants, who were contacted via phone, one, three and six months post-intervention. Of those individuals, the researchers reported, 12.5 percent had quit by the final follow-up phone call. Tong said in the release that number is “promising,” since only around 5 percent of smokers are able to quit on their own.

Seventy percent of participants reported the “quit kits” were valuable resources, Tong and co-authors wrote. They also said talking to their peers, who were similar in age and culture, was helpful—especially discussions about the cost of smoking, health hazards and quitting tips.

“Tobacco-cessation efforts aimed at newer smokers often don’t work, likely because they are based on what works for longer-term smokers versus younger smokers who identify as social smokers,” co-author Kimberly Bankston-Lee said in the release. “One of the key differences with our approach was the comfort factor. Younger smokers were able to interact with people their own age in locations where they all typically hang out.”

Tong said next steps included testing similar techniques at broader sites, like community college campuses.

“Our goals are to find the most powerful ways to engage and empower Sacramento youth to live tobacco-free lives, and then share those tools with the rest of California and the U.S.,” she said.