Sci­en­tists team up to cut smok­ing in China

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By LINDA DENG in Seat­tle lin­dadeng@chi­nadai­

Peng Liyuan’s visit to US in 2015 led to joint ef­fort to help China’s 316 mil­lion smokers kick habit

It started with a brief but poignant com­ment from China’s first lady Peng Liyuan, and it has led to an Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist and smok­ing-ces­sa­tion re­searcher and a Chi­nese sci­en­tist work­ing to­gether to solve one of China’s big­gest prob­lems: help­ing 316 mil­lion smokers quit.

When she ac­com­pa­nied her hus­band Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping on a trip to Seat­tle last Septem­ber, Peng vis­ited the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter. She met with cen­ter pres­i­dent and di­rec­tor Gary Gilliland, phi­lan­thropist Bill Gates and oth­ers.

The visit’s pur­pose was for Peng to learn more about col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts be­tween the cen­ter and China.

Dur­ing her visit to the can­cer cen­ter’s cam­pus, Peng was briefed by Jonathan Bricker, head of the To­bacco and Health Be­hav­ior Sci­ence Re­search Group at the cen­ter. He spoke about his re­search us­ing a clin­i­cally proven smok­ing-ces­sa­tion app for US smart­phones. Stud­ies show that us­ing the app is two to three times is more ef­fec­tive than try­ing to quit cold turkey.

Peng has led a cam­paign to lower smok­ing rates in China, where an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion die each year of to­bacco-re­lated causes, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion. In

... We need mea­sures to help in­di­vid­ual smokers.” It is not easy to find a right part­ner and I am very lucky.”

2012, she and Gates ap­peared to­gether to pro­mote an an­ti­smok­ing cam­paign in Bei­jing, ahead of the 25th World NoTobacco Day.

Af­ter Bricker told Peng that a sim­i­lar app could help 16 mil­lion peo­ple a year in China quit, Peng said, “In my own fam­ily there are three smokers. I re­ally hope they can find a bet­ter way to quit smok­ing.”

At the time, no one ex­pected the im­pact of that re­mark.

But Cheng Feng, a pro­fes­sor and chief physi­cian at the Re­search Cen­ter for Pub­lic Health and School of Medicine of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, read the me­dia cov­er­age of the con­ver­sa­tion and was very in­ter­ested in Bricker’s work.

Cheng’s re­search in­ter­est is in pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of in­fec­tious dis­eases, strength­en­ing the health sys­tem, big data and health­care, ag­ing health, China health de­vel­op­ment aid and its role in im­prov­ing global pub­lic health. Re­cently he turned his at­ten­tion to the smok­ing prob­lem in China.

“I had been look­ing world­wide for good ways to solve the prob­lem un­til I found Bricker’s amaz­ing work,” Cheng said.

Cheng reached out to Bricker by e-mail, then Skype. In Jan­uary, Bricker trav­eled to Bei­jing. Last week, Cheng came to Seat­tle.

Now Bricker and Cheng are work­ing to cre­ate a new way to help China’s 316 mil­lion smokers quit. They are work­ing to de­velop Smart Quit China, a mo­bile app that could make smok­ing ces­sa­tion widely avail­able. Last week, they re­ceived data on the con­tent of 66 ex­ist­ing stop-smok­ing apps avail­able for smart phones in China.

About the part­ner­ship, Cheng said it was “love at first sight”.

In ad­di­tion to not­ing the good chem­istry be­tween them, Bricker said that Cheng has a pas­sion and vi­sion to re­duce the smok­ing rate in China, and has demon­strated his com­mit­ment through qual­ity re­search. “Plus, Cheng is a very good sci­en­tist who has qual­ity mytho­log­i­cal skills and a cando at­ti­tude. It is not easy to find a right part­ner and I am very lucky.” Bricker told China Daily.

Like the US app, the Chi­nese ver­sion will fo­cus on Bricker’s par­a­digm, called Ac­cep­tance and Com­mit­ment Ther­apy, or ACT, which uses an in­no­va­tive method that pro­vides tailored ex­er­cises and on­go­ing sup­port mes­sages to help peo­ple no­tice and ac­cept smok­ing urges in­stead of try­ing to sup­press them.

It could take five to six years to de­velop the SmartQuit China app, Cheng said. Both are very con­fi­dent that with enough fund­ing their project will suc­ceed.

Nei­ther Cheng nor Bricker is paid ex­tra for work on the project. “We want to make the in­vest­ment be­cause we re­ally want to make im­pact on real peo­ple,” Bricker said.

Smok­ing af­fects nearly 27.7 per­cent of China’s adult pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC), the num­ber of Chi­nese smokers in­creased by 15 mil­lion in the past five years, mak­ing the to­tal num­ber of smokers 316 mil­lion by the end of 2015.

Peng spear­headed ef­forts that led to last year’s law re­quir­ing all in­door pub­lic places in the cap­i­tal city of Bei­jing to be smoke-free, a move that af­fects more than 20 mil­lion peo­ple.

“Ef­forts like this re­duced the health risks of sec­ond­hand smoke. How­ever, we need mea­sures to help in­di­vid­ual smokers.” Cheng said.

Cheng led a re­search sem­i­nar for pre­par­ing the Smart Quit China re­search project with about 14 sci­en­tists from China lead­ing in­sti­tutes such as Ts­inghua Univer­sity and world or­ga­ni­za­tions in Jan­uary.

He said it’s very im­por­tant to un­der­stand the need of the app users in China through sur­veys and a pi­lot study.

“The pos­si­bil­i­ties of us­ing mo­bile tech­nol­ogy for smoke ces­sa­tion are huge. This is just be­gin­ning, the best yet to come,” Bricker said.



China’s anti-smok­ing am­bas­sador Peng Liyuan and Bill Gates at­tend an anti-smok­ing cam­paign in Bei­jing in this file photo taken in 2014.

Cheng Feng, pro­fes­sor, Ts­inghua Univer­sity

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