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Original Research

Use of cell phones and computers for health promotion and tobacco cessation by American Indian college students in Montana

Submitted: 10 May 2016
Revised: 30 December 2016
Accepted: 2 January 2017
Published: 22 March 2017

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Author(s) : Dotson JW, Nelson LA, Young SL, Buchwald D, Roll J.

Citation: Dotson JW, Nelson LA, Young SL, Buchwald D, Roll J.  Use of cell phones and computers for health promotion and tobacco cessation by American Indian college students in Montana. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2017; 17: 4014. Available: (Accessed 21 October 2017). DOI:


Introduction:  Cell phones and personal computers have become popular mechanisms for delivering and monitoring health information and education, including the delivery of tobacco cessation education and support. Tobacco smoking is prevalent among American Indians (AIs) and Alaska Natives (ANs), with 26% AI/AN adult men smoking compared to 19% of Caucasian adult males and 22% of African American adult males. Smoking is even more prevalent in Northern Plains AI populations, with 42% of men and women reporting current smoking. The literature on the availability and use of cell phones and computers, or the acceptability of use in health promotion among AIs and ANs, is scant. The authors report findings from a survey of AI students regarding their cell phone and computer access and use. The survey was conducted to inform the development and implementation of a text messaging smoking cessation intervention modeled on a program developed and used in Australia.
Methods:  A 22-item paper and pencil survey was administered to students at tribal colleges in rural Montana. The survey questions included cell phone ownership and access to service, use of cell phones and computers for health information, demographics, tobacco use habits, and interest in an intervention study. The study was reviewed and determined exempt by the institutional review boards at the tribal colleges and the lead research university. The study was conducted by researchers at the tribal colleges. Survey respondents received $10 when the survey was completed and returned. Data analysis was performed with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.
Results:  Among 153 AI respondents, the mean age was 29 years, range was 18–64 years. Overall, 40% reported smoking cigarettes with a mean age of 16 years at initiation. A total of 131 participants (86%) had cell phones and, of those, 122 (93%) had unlimited text messaging. A total of 104 (68%) had smart phones (with internet access), although 40% of those with smart phones reported that internet access on their phone was very slow or location limited. A total of 146 (95%) participants reported having access to a computer, although 32% of those did not have daily access. Students aged less than 23 years were more likely to have cell phones with internet access. Cell phone ownership differed by site (93% vs 77%, p=0.007). About 60% of the respondents who smoked indicated interest in participating in the intervention study.
Conclusions:  This study revealed that AI tribal college students in the rural communities surveyed had less cell phone, smart phone, and computer and internet access than that reported for undergraduate college students elsewhere in the USA. Research efforts and public health interventions must be culturally appropriate and technologically viable, therefore access to and acceptability of mobile technology must be evaluated when planning and implementing interventions for rural and other marginalized populations. The findings from this study contribute to the literature regarding the access to and acceptability of mobile technology for health promotion among AI/AN college students in rural and remote areas, and helped introduce the proposed study to the community and solicited useful data regarding tobacco prevalence and interest in tobacco research in the target population.

Key words: American Indians, college students, rural, smoking cessation, text messaging, USA.

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