The Medical University of South Carolina has received federal government funding to develop a smartphone app designed to help young people quit vaping.
MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Center says researchers have found most adolescents want to stop vaping. They say the challenge is how to support them in dropping an addictive behavior.
For many young people, doctors say healthily coping with depression is key.
MUSC College of Medicine Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Dahne told Live5 News she recently received one of the first grants from the National Institutes of Health aimed at reducing vaping among adolescents.
The National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer Grant is for $320,000 and researchers say it will help them develop a smartphone app designed to help adolescents quit vaping.
“Most of my research focuses on development of various technology-based interventions. I focus mostly on depression treatment and smoking cessation,” Dahne said. “Those are my interest areas because they affect a lot of people. With my program of research, I think about how we develop interventions, evaluate them and get them out there in a way that really is going to get us the most bang for our buck.”
This trial will further Hollings’ cancer control research program by addressing an issue affecting more and more adolescents. According to previous studies cited in Dahne’s work, the number of adolescents who reported vaping has increased from near zero in 2011 to 27.8% in 2019.
“The idea behind the small business technology transfer grant program is to take tax dollars that we’re paying to NIH’s research portfolio and invest them in research that then is going to move toward products being commercialized and generating revenue that goes back into the economy,” said Dahne.
MUSC’s team is working with the small business MountainPass Technology LLC, to create an app that will address some of the biggest risk factors that may cause adolescents ages 16 to 20 to start, and continue, vaping, researcher say.
Using an app is critical to reaching the targeted age group, Dahne said. “We wanted to do a digital intervention because we know about 98% of this age group is using smartphones really frequently.”
Examining what triggers vaping usage, researchers say they identified one of the biggest risk factors as being depressive symptoms, reported by 36% of adolescent vapers. MUSC says the app will focus on an evidence-based treatment for depression known as "behavioral activation."
Users will be able to track their successes and accomplishments through the app, and researchers say this will also allow users to see changes in their vaping habits. The app is specifically being created and tested to appeal to younger generations.
Each participant will be enrolled in the trial for four weeks, but Dahne estimates that it will take at least six months to complete the trial. Once complete, researchers say they will measure and compare results with the group who used the app versus those who received traditional primary care treatment.