Two research teams are investigating ways to help people in underserved populations access and successfully quit smoking.

Since the mid-1960s where more than 40 percent of the population smoked to around 14 percent today, the United States has made great progress against the smoking epidemic according to Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

While 14 percent is an improvement, it still means more than 34 million Americans use tobacco and underserved populations are at a higher risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more than 30 percent of Americans living below the poverty line smoke cigarettes.

“We have had amazing public health success with tobacco, but we failed to reach out to vulnerable populations,” said David Wetter, PhD, MS, of the University of Utah. “As a result, we’ve concentrated tobacco use among those groups.”

Wetter’s University of Utah-based study is comparing strategies to engage tobacco users in cessation programs at community health centers. These facilities provide primary care to millions nationally, the majority of whom are minorities and have incomes below the federal poverty level.

“It’s critical to remind the public, healthcare providers, and policy makers that 480,000 people die each year in the United States because of tobacco use,”

Dr. David Wetter, University of Utah

A University of Pennsylvania study led by Scott Halpern, MD, PhD, is seeking to find which intervention is most effective for older patients with heavy smoking histories.

“Patients eligible for lung cancer screening are much older than those who are participants in the overwhelming majority of smoking cessation trials conducted to date,” Halpern said.

These two studies address healthcare disparities with an investment of more than $250 million.

“We wanted to really focus on people for whom access to available smoking cessation interventions tends to be least, because that’s where the health consequences tend to be greatest.”

Dr. Scott Halpern, University of Pennsylvania