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Customizing a mobile program to help rural Alaska native youth quit tobacco

Tobacco use has long been part of communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, a remote region in southwest Alaska comprised of more than 80 percent of Alaska Natives.

In a study from 2007, 63 percent of 15- to 18-year-olds reported being current smokers or smokeless tobacco users. Last year, the state of Alaska reported that more than 30 percent of youth in southwest Alaska use a regional type of chewing tobacco called iqmik, a homemade mix of tobacco and fungus ash that is unique to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.

TIQ Messages

These substantial tobacco use rates are why Truth Initiative® is working with the region’s tribal healthcare organization, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, to help young people quit tobacco. With the help of a state of Alaska prevention grant aimed at tobacco prevention, YKHC is partnering with Truth Initiative to create a customized version of This Is Quitting, a mobile quit program for teens and young adults.

This is Quitting is a mobile app that, once enrolled by texting the word “QUIT”, relays text messages that assist users in the process of quitting and are written by young people and professionals who are also struggling to quit. Truth Initiative developed the program to be customizable to fit different cultural norms surrounding tobacco, and to foster a sense of community among quitters. For example, Truth Initiative has worked with colleges to create campus versions of TiQ for students.

YKHC’s version of the program features culturally-appropriate text messages from young people in the community and addresses the unique forms of tobacco commonly used in the region, including iqmik. Text messages are sent from a dedicated 907 area code phone number, the only area code in Alaska, to make the program even more regionally specific. This version of the program also refers native Yup’ik and Cup’ik speakers to cessation resources available through the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital in Bethel.

YKQuit Texts

Those who enroll in the program may contribute messages of encouragement to help other tobacco users like them to quit. Enrollees also have the option to install the companion mobile app, which offers other cessation resources including clear information about nicotine replacement therapy and prescription cessation medication, as well as links to both the YKHC tobacco cessation program and the state of Alaska quit line.

TiQ is an especially good fit for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, a geographically isolated area of more than 50 rural communities not connected by a road system and with limited internet connectivity, yet wide smartphone use. Because text messaging does not require internet access or specialized smartphone features, This is Quitting provides a supportive environment for people to share their experiences with quitting tobacco.

Learn more about tobacco control in Alaska with our 2016 state fact sheet.