Helping People with Disabilities Kick the Habit

Quitting smoking is difficult for anyone, but it may be especially challenging for people with disabilities, says Jamie Pomeranz, Ph.D., a disability researcher and an assistant professor in the department of behavioral science and community health.

People with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to smoke than people who do not have a disability. That translates to a 30 percent smoking rate among the 50 million Americans living with a disability.

Pomeranz leads a National Institutes of Health-funded study to create a tobacco cessation program that meets the needs of people with disabilities. Experts don’t know exactly why smoking is more prevalent in this group, but less access to preventive care and health providers not knowing how to advise their patients on cessation may play a role, Pomeranz said.

“People with disabilities also tend to be on several medications and they may worry that nicotine replacement drugs may interact with their current medications,” he said.

In his research, Pomeranz uses an approach called community based participatory research, in which community members take part in all aspects of the research process. He has partnered with William Kennedy and the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, an advocacy and service center for people with disabilities, to help develop the smoking cessation curriculum and to do pilot testing.

“Community based participatory research increases the chances of our research being successful,” Pomeranz said. “Our UF research team members don’t have disabilities. We have an understanding of the lived experience of someone with disabilities, but we need their perspective. Why not have the population we want to serve help us develop the program? It will be more accurate, more likely to address typical concerns, use appropriate language and could lead to the program being more accepted within the disability community.”

Pomeranz’s collaborators include several fellow department faculty members: public health researchers Tracey Barnett, Ph.D., and Barbara Curbow, Ph.D., and rehabilitation counseling researchers Michael Moorehouse, Ph.D., and Mary Ellen Young, Ph.D. He also collaborates with Thomas Brandon, Ph.D., and Vanni Simmons, Ph.D., from Moffit Cancer Center, and he frequently works with Craig Velozo, Ph.D., in the college’s department of occupational therapy.

Pomeranz is also conducting a pilot study on life care planning for veterans with spinal cord injury, funded by the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center.

“A life care plan is a roadmap or case management tool for patients with a catastrophic injury or illness and their families to know exactly what the person will need for the rest of his or her life,” Pomeranz said. “This may include medical equipment, assistive technology, architectural renovations to the home or changing health needs as the individual ages. With the influx of veterans with severe injuries coming home from the wars, this is a particularly timely topic for study.”