Hollings fellow receives national grant for smoking cessation aid for cancer patients

February 28, 2024
tobacco researcher Kinsey Pebley poses in a garden
Kinsey Pebley, Ph.D., said that people who have trouble stopping smoking after a cancer diagnosis need additional help to manage the stress in their lives without cigarettes. Photo by Clif Rhodes

An MUSC Hollings Cancer Center postdoctoral fellow has been awarded pilot funding from the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology for a project to provide smoking cessation information to people with cancer.

Kinsey Pebley, Ph.D., hopes to provide scientifically sound information in short videos that will primarily feature people who have actually lived through quitting smoking after a cancer diagnosis. She was awarded the sole Cancer Control Program Pilot Project Award offered by the alliance this year.

Some people who smoke are able to quit once they get a cancer diagnosis. But others find it harder to let go of something that provides psychological comfort, and fitting in appointments with tobacco treatment specialists on top of everything else can simply be too much.

“Some previous work I've done through my dissertation found that people with cancer who continue to smoke after diagnosis report higher levels of cancer-specific stress,” Pebley explained. “So I think it's going to be important for us to consider with these videos that these people are going through a lot – a lot of things that people without cancer aren't going through. We have to be sensitive to that and present strategies to manage those stressors – because those stressors aren’t going to go away.”

Pebley has long been interested in tobacco use. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Memphis, where she worked in an alcohol and substance use lab, and then matched to MUSC for her one-year residency. In 2023, she was named to a two-year Abney postdoctoral fellowship at Hollings, where she works under the mentorship of Hollings researcher Alana Rojewski, Ph.D.

Pebley’s fellowship project provided the foundation for this new pilot grant. During her fellowship, she’s been interviewing and surveying people with cancer who smoke, to learn about the barriers they face to quitting smoking and their reasons for quitting or not quitting.

Now, she’ll use that information to develop brief videos, each of which will focus on one “bite-sized” piece of information, like how to use a nicotine patch correctly or what to do when cravings hit – “so people can get good information without a huge time commitment,” she said.

The pilot project will reach Hollings patients who smoke. The MUSC Health Tobacco Treatment Program already has an outreach plan in place for these patients. Now, the tobacco treatment specialists will also ask if the patients are interested in getting more information about the pilot program; if so, they’ll receive text or email links to the videos.

Because this program is in its pilot phase, the primary focus centers on assessing the feasibility of the idea and evaluating whether patients will watch the videos and find them helpful.

“I'm hoping this is a project that will grow and evolve to be something bigger,” Pebley said.

With more people seeking health information from videos, this idea could fill a need.

“This is a way to meet people where they're at, where they're getting this short video that's loaded with content,” she said.