Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. Smoking prevalence is higher in rural areas than in metropolitan areas, due partly to differences in access to cessation treatment. With internet use at 89% of all US adults, digital approaches could increase use of cessation treatment and reduce smoking.
We investigated the extent to which smokers from rural areas use a digital cessation resource. We compared the geographic distribution of registered users of a free Web-based smoking cessation program with the geographic distribution of US smokers.
We mapped user-provided ZIP codes to Rural-Urban Continuum Codes. A total of 59,050 of 118,574 users (49.80%) provided valid ZIP codes from 2013 to 2017. We used US National Survey of Drug Use and Health data from 2013 to 2017 to compare the geographic distribution of our sample of Web-based cessation users with the geographic distribution of US smokers. Reach ratios and 95% confidence intervals quantified the extent to which rural smokers’ representation in the sample was proportionate to their representation in the national smoking population. Reach ratios less than 1 indicate underrepresentation.
Smokers from rural areas were significantly underrepresented in 2013 (reach ratio 0.89, 95% CI 0.87-0.91) and 2014 (reach ratio 0.89, 95% CI 0.86-0.92), proportionally represented in 2015 (reach ratio 1.08, 95% CI 1.02-1.14) and 2016 (reach ratio 1.03, 95% CI 0.94-1.14), and proportionally overrepresented in 2017 (reach ratio 1.16, 95% CI 1.12-1.21). Smokers from Large Metro areas were proportionally represented in 2013 and 2014 but underrepresented in 2015 (reach ratio 0.97, 95% CI 0.94-1.00), 2016 (reach ratio 0.89, 95% CI 0.85-0.94), and 2017 (reach ratio 0.89, 95% CI 0.86-0.91).
Results suggest that smokers from rural areas are more than proportionally reached by a long-standing digital cessation intervention. The underrepresentation of smokers from Large Metro areas warrants further study.