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Internet class aims to curb smoking use

Photo Illustration by CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Undeclared freshman Kevin Weidinger demonstrates "breaking" the habit of smoking cigarettes. Many different programs are available on campus for students interested in kicking their addiction.
By April Lacey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
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The Arizona Health Sciences Center is launching an Internet-based research project to teach people how to talk to tobacco users about quitting.

Similar to a CPR class, in which people learn to save the lives of others who have stopped breathing, Project Reach aims to train ordinary people in effective ways of convincing tobacco users to quit, said Myra Muramoto, the principal investigator for the project.

"Doctors can't reach everyone," Muramoto said.

The specific goal of the project is to test whether or not Web-based training can be as effective as an in-person workshop in teaching people brief intervention for tobacco.

"What we don't know is if what they can learn on the Web compares to what they learn in the classroom," Muramoto said.

The National Cancer Institute first funded Project Reach in September 2002. For the past two years, smoking sensation researchers have been studying how tobacco users respond to different types of intervention, Muramoto said.

The researchers then gave the information to the designers of the Web site to put together an interactive training system, said Michael Griffith, the applications systems analyst for Project Reach.

"It teaches you how to tap into people's own motivation to change, instead of trying to force them to change," Muramoto said. "Seventy percent of tobacco users want to quit."

One of the biggest obstacles for volunteers to overcome is the fear of reaching out to tobacco users, Griffith said.

People are often nervous because they think smokers don't want to be told they should quit, Muramoto said. This is why the training teaches ways of sensitively approaching the topic.

The Web-based training includes interactive videos of instructors, former tobacco users and fellow tobacco interveners and exercises to learn how to approach tobacco users in a sensitive yet effective manner, Muramoto said.

"We are trying to parallel on the Web what someone might learn in the classroom," Muramoto said.

The project committee will select 1,110 volunteers to participate in the study and then randomly allocate the volunteers into one of the three training methods - an in-person class, a Web-based program and a mail-out information system.

Those interested in volunteering can call the Project Reach offices. They must go to an orientation before officially registering for the program. The training starts immediately after the orientation.

After the training, the volunteers will keep a journal for the next six months of the tobacco users with whom they have spoken about quitting. The researchers will follow up with each volunteer after three months and again after six months, and the results of each method will be compared to see which was most effective, Muramoto said.

The Arizona Health Sciences Center is operating Project Reach in conjunction with Pima Community College, and workshops will be offered at PCC, Muramoto said.

The Web-based system includes a section that allows volunteers to see the results of other volunteers in comparison to their own progress in the training.

"We are tying to build a sense of community within the students," Griffith said.

The training itself, whether Web- or classroom-based, will last only about five hours, Muramoto said.

Currently there are only about five volunteers officially enrolled in the project, Griffith said.

The researchers are specifically targeting people who already work in a field dealing with the public, Muramoto said. However, anyone can volunteer by calling Project Reach at 621-1900.

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