Photo-ageing in pharmacy may help young smokers to quit

A study using internet-based photo-ageing software to show young smokers what they might look like after a lifetime of the habit has found the technology can be useful as a deterrent as well as being cost-effective.

The study, conducted in eight community pharmacies in Perth, used the APRIL face ageing software to show young smokers the deleterious effect of smoking on their appearance.

In addition to normal smoking cessation advice from the pharmacist, the intervention group of 80 people between the ages of 18 and 30 was shown digitally photo-aged images of how they might look in their 50s and 60s if they continued to smoke, and what they might look like as a non-smoker.

The study, led by Curtin University PhD student Oksana Burford, aimed to test the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of interventions based on personalised illustrations of “smoker's face”. It also explored the value of an unfunded intervention within pharmacy practices.

The researchers noted that in isolation, knowledge about the dangers of smoking is insufficient to deter young adults, as they are generally not concerned about the long-term health consequences because they may believe they will give up the habit while still young.

The participants in the intervention group were emailed the digitally aged photos within 24 hours of the intervention, and they were also asked to complete a questionnaire about their willingness to pay for the digital ageing service.

Follow-up surveys were conducted by telephone at one, three and six months. At the six-month period, five of the 80 control group participants suggested they had quit smoking, but only one of those consented to taking a carbon monoxide breath test through the Smokerlyzer CO monitor.

In the intervention group, 22 of 80 participants reported quitting, with 11 confirmed by CO testing. The researchers say this difference in biochemically confirmed quit attempts was statistically significant. They also found a reduction in the average smoking dependence score.

In terms of cost-effectiveness for the health system, the researchers say the mean cost of implementing the intervention was estimated at $5.79 per participant. Interestingly, the mean cost that participants indicated they were willing to pay for the digital ageing service was $20.25.

While the effectiveness of the software in terms of persuading young people to quit was the main outcome of the study, the researchers also looked at the business viability of delivering the intervention in a community pharmacy.

The researchers found that more than 80 per cent of participants said they would be more likely to use the pharmacy to purchase future smoking cessation therapies and to use it more for other purchases.

“More than 80 per cent of participants also thought their friends would be willing to pay for the service, and all but two participants said they would recommend the [photo-ageing] intervention to one or more friends who were smokers.”

The researchers state that while many individualised smoking cessation interventions have been implemented in the past few decades, “few have had as marked an impact” as this study.

“With the advent of digital technology, quit messages can now be delivered by mobile telephone, email, text messaging, and online social networks,” they say.

The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Posted in Allied Health

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