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Study Reveals Factors Driving African Americans Ability to Quit Smoking

February 27, 2019

Caption: Close-up view of lab-on-a-chip
Nikki Nollen, PhD

A clinical study conducted by researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center sheds light on the unique challenges African American smokers encounter when trying to quit tobacco. The findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).

Over the course of the five-year study, the research team enrolled about 450 socioeconomically disadvantaged African American and white smokers who were interested in quitting. Participants received the same treatment, which included 12 weeks of varenicline, a prescription medication used to treat smoking addiction, and six sessions of smoking cessation behavioral counseling over a six-month period.

The study was conducted with Swope Health Services Central, a Federally Qualified Health Center located in Kansas City, Missouri. KU Cancer Center and Swope Health have partnered on similar studies for more than two decades.

Principal investigator Nikki Nollen, PhD, and member of KU Cancer Center’s Cancer Control and Population Health program, noted that both African American and white smokers adhered to the varenicline regimen, but African Americans were more likely to attend the counseling sessions. However, they were much less likely than white participants to abstain from smoking by their six-month visit.

“The team considered why these differences in quitting exist,” Dr. Nollen said. “We found that lower quit rates were not due to race or biological differences in nicotine metabolism. Rather, the race difference was completely explained by socioeconomic factors, such as home ownership, income and neighborhood problems, as well as smoking and treatment process factors.”

Dr. Nollen added that these findings are among the first to illuminate why African American smokers in the United States have a harder time quitting smoking.

“Understanding the mechanisms behind this can help us begin to develop tailored and more effective tobacco cessation treatments for African American smokers,” Dr. Nollen said.

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