Shelley Karn

Photo Credit: Rodolfo Suarez | Daily Texan Staff

A new program that links patients’ medical records to a state-funded tobacco-quitting program will significantly lower healthcare costs for the state, according to Michael Davis, the director of the Cancer Institute at the Baylor Scott & White Health system.

“This initiative will have a huge impact on the number one preventable risk factor for all chronic diseases — tobacco use — and stands to net the state over $271 million in health care cost reductions,” Davis said in a statement released by the University on Wednesday.

The new program, eTobacco, will allow a doctor to automatically refer a patient who qualifies for help with tobacco cessation to the state-funded tobacco program, Quitline.

Davis said the protocol will also increase workforce productivity in the hospital, since doctors will not have to go through the outdated protocol systems to enroll a patient into Quitline.

Tobacco use is currently responsible for more than 5 million deaths per year in the U.S., with trends pointing to an increase of 8 million deaths per year by 2030, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shelley Karn, project director of the Tobacco Research and Evaluation Team at UT, said she believes eTobacco will allow for a greater number of adults struggling with tobacco to benefit from Quitline and recover from a dependence on tobacco. 

Temple Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas, hosted the first training session for the eTobacco system Wednesday. Karn said she believes the eTobacco system will eventually be implemented in hospitals around the entire state.

“This presentation is the first, but we hope to do similar trainings to integrate the eTobacco protocol and other Quitline referral resources throughout the state,” Karn said in the statement.

Biology freshman Evan Gabriel said he believes the implementation of systems such as eTobacco will allow doctors to budget their time more efficiently while in the hospital.

“Doctors won’t have to spend nearly as much time performing tedious tasks like filling out paperwork,” Gabriel said. “Instead, they can focus more on the patients and their own research.”

Implementation of electronic records systems throughout hospitals is becoming more prevalent as hospitals are starting realize the programs’ significant benefits, Gabriel said.

“If I become a doctor in the next 10 years, I expect for everything to be electronically-based,” Gabriel said.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Three years after banning tobacco on campus, University administrators have launched a new program to reduce the use of tobacco and alternative tobacco products among college-aged students.

“The majority of full-time smokers and tobacco users over the age of 26 started before they were that age and while they were in college,” Shelley Karn, a program director with the Tobacco Research and Evaluation Team, said. “We wanted to develop a prevention campaign to prevent them from ever even starting tobacco products. There wasn’t a comprehensive program in colleges to do this, and we wanted to change that.”

The program, Peers Against Tobacco, is one part of a multi-university project in Texas which includes schools such as Texas Tech and Texas State. The University’s Tobacco Research and Evaluation Team oversees the program, and the Texas Department of State Health services funds it. 

Peers Against Tobacco aims to decrease tobacco use among students at the 20 participating universities through different educational initiatives. According to Karn, the planning stages of the program began in September 2013 and culminated with the start of the program last month.

Karn said educating students about the full range of tobacco-based products is important because students tend to think tobacco alternatives, such as hookahs and electronic cigarettes, are not as harmful as traditional cigarettes.

Phil Huang, the medical director and health authority for the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs and hookahs are not FDA regulated, so consumers cannot be certain about how safe the products really are. 

“Many [tobacco alternatives] are made overseas in China, so there’s no knowing what’s really being put in the product,” said Huang, who is also on the FDA’s Tobacco Product Advisory committee. “It’s not just harmless water vapor like they try to advertise.”

Peers Against Tobacco will soon launch a student-led media campaign, do research involving local tobacco retailers and develop an online prevention curriculum — which each college within the University can implement.

According to Alicia Graf, senior project coordinator for the program, two student leaders and a supervising administrator selected at each university will evaluate the effectiveness of the prevention program at the end of the spring semester. 

“We’ve gotten some push back [about the program] from the vaping community through social media because they say vaping is safer,” Gras said. “We want to show that all tobacco products are dangerous and that there’s a lot we don’t know about certain products that a lot of people use.”