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PDAs Helping Smokers Quit

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After smoking for the past 45 years, Dale Marsh thinks it's finally time to give up his a pack-a-day habit.

And the 59-year-old Iowan is hoping PDA technology will help.

A PDA - or personal digital assistant - is a handheld device that can combine computing, telephone/fax, Internet and networking features.

A pilot program Marsh enrolled in through the University of Nebraska Medical Center provides him with a PDA programmed with smoking cessation tools that help quitters deal with withdrawal symptoms and offer tips to deal with situations that trigger smoking.

"Everybody quits smoking when they come in the hospital," said med center researcher Lynne Buchanan, adding that it's when patients go home and have fewer cessation resources that they waver.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 45.1 million Americans smoke cigarettes. About 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, but nicotine addiction often requires multiple attempts to overcome.

Marsh and roughly 30 other outpatients have been given the free PDAs to use along with another cessation tool, such as medications or nicotine patches or gum. Buchanan said it's recommended they use the devices at least five days a week for eight weeks.

"I try to use it daily," said Marsh, who signed up for the program after he was hospitalized for knee surgery. "I pick it up every now and then and go through some of the stuff on it."

Marsh, of Macedonia, Iowa, said he's tried and failed to quit smoking a few times over the past 45 years. After six weeks using the PDA and taking the cessation drug Chantix, he said, it's becoming easier to pass up that cigarette.

"It's getting there," he said. "It takes time."

Buchanan said the goal of the FRIENDS - Follow-up Relationship Intended to End Smoking - PDA cessation program is to help smokers kick the habit by behavior modification.

"Instead of smoking, they would pull this out," she said, explaining that the PDA devices being used are the same size as a pack of cigarettes. The model chosen has a stylus, which Buchanan said is meant to replace the cigarette.

Buchanan said feedback has been mostly positive so far and the PDAs seem to be helping.

The FRIENDS application was developed by the med center and technology specialists at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Deepak Khazanchi, who worked on the program at UNO, said future editions will likely include more interactive features and could be made compatible with cell phones.

For more information visit the Web sites of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (www.unmc.edu) and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (www.unomaha.edu).