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The Equity Impact of Proactive Outreach to Smokers: Analysis of a Randomized Trial

  • Elisheva R. Danan
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Elisheva R. Danan, MD, MPH, Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis VA Health Care System, 1 Veterans Drive (152), Minneapolis MN 55417.
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Steven S. Fu
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Barbara A. Clothier
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Siamak Noorbaloochi
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Patrick J. Hammett
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Rachel Widome
    Affiliations
    Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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  • Diana J. Burgess
    Affiliations
    Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Open AccessPublished:August 20, 2018DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.05.023

      Introduction

      Population-based smoking-cessation services tend to preferentially benefit high-SES smokers, potentially exacerbating disparities. Interventions that include proactive outreach, telephone counseling, and free or low-cost cessation medications may be more likely to help low-SES smokers quit. This analysis evaluated the role of SES in smokers’ response to a population-based proactive smoking-cessation intervention.

      Methods

      This study, conducted in 2016 and 2017, was a secondary analysis of the Veterans Victory Over Tobacco Study, a multicenter pragmatic RCT of a proactive smoking-cessation intervention conducted from 2009 to 2011. Logistic regression modeling was used to test the effect of income or education level on 6-month prolonged abstinence at 1-year follow-up.

      Results

      Of the 5,123 eligible, randomized participants, 2,565 (50%) reported their education level and 2,430 (47%) reported their income level. The interactions between education (p=0.07) or income (p=0.74) X treatment arm were not statistically significant at the 0.05 level. The largest effect sizes for the intervention were found among smokers in the lowest education category (≤11th grade), with a quit rate of 17.3% as compared with 5.7% in usual care (OR=3.5, 95% CI=1.4, 8.6) and in the lowest income range (<$10,000), with a quit rate of 18.7% as compared with 9.4% in usual care (OR=2.2, 95% CI=1.2, 4.0).

      Conclusions

      In a large, multicenter smoking-cessation trial, proactive outreach was associated with higher rates of prolonged abstinence among smokers at all SES levels. Proactive outreach interventions that integrate telephone-based care and facilitated cessation medication access have the potential to reduce socioeconomic disparities in quitting.

      Trial registration

      This study is registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov NCT00608426.

      INTRODUCTION

      Low SES is a fundamental contributor to disease and premature death. As the prevalence of cigarette smoking declines in developed nations, SES-related smoking disparities expand.
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      Traditional smoking-cessation services, including counseling and cessation medications, have historically been more accessible to high-SES smokers.
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      though they achieve this by placing a heavier burden on the poor.
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      An equity approach to tobacco control mandates that interventions aimed at shrinking the overall prevalence of smoking must simultaneously reduce smoking-related socioeconomic disparities.
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      Yet for multiple reasons, promising interventions often have little impact on low-SES smokers. Though most studies find that low-SES smokers have similar interest in quitting and make the same number of quit attempts as high-SES smokers, they are far less likely to succeed.
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      advocate interventions that obviate the connection between having resources and accessing/using health promoting knowledge or treatment. For example, treatments should be affordable, easy to use, and readily accessible, overcoming advantages related to individual resources such as money, knowledge, and connections. Free or low-cost cessation medications and telephone counseling both improve access to evidence-based smoking-cessation therapies.
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      • Mackenbach J
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      Additionally, interventions should reach the entire population automatically, overcoming differential access to community-based resources. A proactive outreach approach to smoking cessation (as compared with the more common, reactive approach) involves contacting all smokers as a matter of course and offering help with quitting.
      The Veterans Victory Over Tobacco Study (Victory) was a pragmatic RCT of proactive versus usual care, in which the intervention combined proactive outreach with an offer of telephone or in-person smoking cessation counseling, as well as facilitated access to free or low-cost cessation medications.
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      The primary outcome paper reported an overall 2.6% population-level increase in 6-month prolonged abstinence at 1-year follow-up for smokers randomized to proactive care as compared with usual care.
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      These population-level findings were similar to prior studies involving active recruitment of smokers to proactive telephone counseling interventions.
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      However, it was unknown whether this intervention improved or widened SES-related smoking disparities.
      The current paper is a secondary analysis of the Victory Study with an equity focus. The primary question is whether the proactive care intervention had a differential effect on 6-month prolonged abstinence at 1-year follow-up for smokers at different SES levels. Secondary outcomes of interest include uptake of smoking-cessation treatments and quit attempts. The hypothesis being tested is that the proactive care intervention will help smokers at all SES levels, resulting in prolonged abstinence rates that do not vary by SES level.

      METHODS

      Study Sample

      The Victory Study was a pragmatic RCT that received approval from all participating sites’ IRBs. Pragmatic trials use minimal inclusion/exclusion criteria to compare clinically relevant treatments under real-world conditions.
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      Current smokers (aged 18–80 years) were identified using the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) electronic medical record. Participants were recruited from October 2009 to September 2010 from four VA medical centers (New York City, New York; Jackson, Wyoming; Tampa, Florida; and Minneapolis, Minnesota) and follow-up was completed in November 2011. More details have been previously described.
      • Fu SS
      • van Ryn M
      • Sherman SE
      • et al.
      Population-based tobacco treatment: study design of a randomized controlled trial.
      • Fu SS
      • van Ryn M
      • Sherman SE
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco treatment and population-level cessation: a pragmatic randomized clinical trial.
      The current analysis was completed in 2017.
      The proactive care intervention combined an active recruitment strategy, proactive outreach (mailed materials followed by telephone outreach), with an offer of telephone smoking-cessation counseling or referral to in-person counseling. Telephone care included proactive counselor-initiated calls from counselors at the Minneapolis VA who were trained in motivational interviewing. Counselors also facilitated access to smoking-cessation pharmacotherapy through the participant's VA provider. The usual-care group did not receive proactive outreach but did have access to smoking-cessation services through their local VA and state telephone quitline.
      VA administrative and healthcare utilization data were obtained from VA National Patient Care Databases. Survey data were collected at baseline and 1-year follow-up.

      Measures

      SES was measured at baseline using self-reported education and income separately. Education levels included ≤11th grade, high school graduate or equivalent, some college, and college graduate or more. Income levels were defined by annual income <$10,000, $10,000–$20,000, $20,001–$40,000, $40,001–$60,000, and >$60,000. The primary outcome was self-reported 6-month prolonged abstinence at 1-year follow-up, and was assessed among all participants, regardless of treatment utilization. Prolonged abstinence was defined as recommended for clinical trials by the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco.
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      Minor lapses in smoking over the 6 months prior to follow-up survey completion were permitted, but participants who reported smoking on 7 consecutive days or two consecutive weekends in the prior 6 months were not considered to have achieved prolonged abstinence. Self-report is the only method for obtaining prolonged abstinence and is the recommended method for measuring smoking status in large trials.
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      • et al.
      Biochemical verification of tobacco use and cessation.
      It has been validated in a VA population.
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      Secondary outcomes assessed included past-year uptake of smoking-cessation therapies and quit attempts measured at follow-up. Smoking cessation therapies examined were (1) self-reported receipt of phone counseling; (2) smoking-cessation medication dispensed by the VA, derived from VA administrative data (including bupropion, varenicline, or nicotine replacement therapy); and (3) combined therapy (use of behavioral counseling [telephone or in-person] and cessation medication [self-report or derived from VA administrative data]). These three cessation therapy outcomes were selected because they were previously shown to rise in response to proactive outreach in the Victory trial.
      • Fu SS
      • van Ryn M
      • Sherman SE
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco treatment and population-level cessation: a pragmatic randomized clinical trial.
      The objective was to assess whether proactive outreach had a differential effect on uptake among participants at each SES level. Quit attempts were self-reported attempts to quit smoking intentionally for ≥24 hours.

      Statistical Analysis

      The study sample was selected using a stratified random sampling plan (by site), and a completely randomized block design was used to randomly assign participants to the intervention or usual care. Accordingly, all estimations, testing, and modeling procedures are based on stratified analyses. A complete case analysis was performed and then augmented with non-ignorable modeling of nonresponse along with multiple imputation of the covariates, which were done to address possible biases due to missing outcomes or covariates. Logistic regression modeling was used to test the effect of SES (education or income level) on 6-month prolonged abstinence. Models included gender, age, treatment group, and site, along with the SES variable and the interaction of that variable X treatment group. Traditionally, in factorial designs, simple effects (i.e., within-group analyses) are only performed when a significant interaction term suggests that one factor has differential effects at different levels of another factor. However, unlike in a completely randomized factorial design, the grouping factors of interest in this secondary analysis (education and income) were not randomly assigned, creating the potential for confounding bias and imbalance because of observed and unobserved covariates. Therefore, proportion abstinent and treatment arm effect sizes (OR with 95% CI) were obtained within each SES level whether the interaction was significant or not, in order to further explore within-group relationships.
      To handle nonresponse for the primary outcome, 6-month prolonged abstinence, it was hypothesized that nonresponse might depend on the unobserved smoking status of the participant: that is, not missing at random (NMAR). The joint distribution of abstinence status and response status was modeled with a pair of logistic regression models and then an expectation–maximization algorithm was used to find maximum likelihood estimators, as described by Ibrahim and colleagues.
      • Ibrahim JG
      • Chen MH
      • Lipsitz SR
      Missing responses in generalised linear mixed models when the missing data mechanism is nonignorable.
      This likelihood-based NMAR method creates two data sets, one that assumes all nonresponders are smokers and the other that assumes all nonresponders are quitters. Then, through a series of iterative weightings, it produces maximum likelihood estimates. Administrative data predictive of missingness was used to impute for missing education and income, producing five imputed data sets. The data analysis for this paper including the macro for likelihood-based NMAR modeling was generated using SAS/STAT software, version 9.2.

      RESULTS

      Of the 5,123 eligible, randomized participants, the complete case samples for this secondary analysis consisted of those who provided follow-up smoking status along with either baseline education (n=2,565, 50%) or income (n=2,430, 47%). Within the five education and six income levels, response rates to the follow-up smoking status question ranged from 77.3% to 79.3% and 75.7% to 81.8%, respectively, and did not differ significantly by education or income level (p=0.63 and p=0.08). Education and income were highly correlated (p<0.001). Participant characteristics by SES level are presented in Tables 1 and 2.
      Table 1Sample Characteristics by Education Level
      CharacteristicsTotal,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      ≤11th grade,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      HS/GED,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      Some college,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      ≥College,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      p-value
      All participants2,5652391,0311,016279
      Treatment group0.9
       Usual care1,342 (52.32)126 (52.72)542 (52.57)523 (51.48)151 (54.12)
       Proactive care1,223 (47.68)113 (47.28)489 (47.43)493 (48.52)128 (45.88)
      Demographic characteristics
       Age, years60 (9.8)61 (7.7)60 (9.3)59 (10.2)62 (11)<0.001
       Race0.002
        White1,552 (60.51)135 (56.49)644 (62.46)583 (57.38)190 (68.1)
        Black690 (26.9)63 (26.36)285 (27.64)286 (28.15)56 (20.07)
        Hispanic163 (6.35)20 (8.37)56 (5.43)74 (7.28)13 (4.66)
        Other160 (6.24)21 (8.79)46 (4.46)73 (7.19)20 (7.17)
       Male gender2,431 (94.78)237 (99.16)1,004 (97.38)935 (92.03)255 (91.4)<0.001
       Married1,260 (49.12)107 (44.77)516 (50.05)496 (48.82)141 (50.54)0.5
      Smoking behaviors
       Cigarettes per day0.003
        ≤10909 (36.03)88 (37.93)323 (31.92)381 (37.95)117 (42.55)
        11–201,070 (42.41)86 (37.07)453 (44.76)417 (41.53)114 (41.45)
        ≥21544 (21.56)58 (25)236 (23.32)206 (20.52)44 (16)
       Time to first cigarette, minutes0.001
        >31710 (27.9)53 (22.27)258 (25.32)304 (30.07)95 (34.3)
        6–301,324 (52.02)120 (50.42)555 (54.47)510 (50.45)139 (50.18)
        <5511 (20.08)65 (27.31)206 (20.22)197 (19.49)43 (15.52)
      Social and environmental pressures
       Home smoking rules0.08
        Not allowed anywhere958 (39.39)74 (33.48)382 (39.38)382 (39.02)120 (45.8)
        Allowed some places/times528 (21.71)49 (22.17)203 (20.93)215 (21.96)61 (23.28)
        Allowed anywhere946 (38.9)98 (44.34)385 (39.69)382 (39.02)81 (30.92)
       Friends who smoke<0.001
        None398 (16.46)29 (13)149 (15.47)156 (16.1)64 (24.33)
        Less than half713 (29.49)55 (24.66)261 (27.1)299 (30.86)98 (37.26)
        About half523 (21.63)33 (14.8)234 (24.3)209 (21.57)47 (17.87)
        More than half463 (19.15)60 (26.91)185 (19.21)184 (18.99)34 (12.93)
        All321 (13.28)46 (20.63)134 (13.91)121 (12.49)20 (7.6)
       People important to me want me to quit smoking0.6
        Strongly disagree to neutral496 (20.58)41 (18.64)216 (22.48)190 (19.59)49 (18.92)
        Somewhat agree551 (22.86)55 (25)216 (22.48)218 (22.47)62 (23.94)
        Strongly agree1,363 (56.56)124 (56.36)529 (55.05)562 (57.94)148 (57.14)
      Note: Boldface indicates statistical significance (p<0.05).
      HS/GED, high school/General Educational Development test.
      Table 2Sample Characteristics by Income Level
      CharacteristicsTotal,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      <$10,000,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      $10,000–$20,000,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      $20,001–$40,000,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      $40,001–$60,000,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      >$60,000,

      n (%) or median (SD)
      p-value
      All participants2,430429769734305193
      Treatment group0.97
       Usual care1,268 (52.18)223 (51.98)396 (51.5)385 (52.45)159 (52.13)105 (54.4)
       Proactive care1,162 (47.82)206 (48.02)373 (48.5)349 (47.55)146 (47.87)88 (45.6)
      Demographic characteristics
       Age, years60 (9.8)57 (9.1)61 (9.3)60 (10.2)60 (10)59 (10.9)<0.001
       Race<0.001
        White1,470 (60.49)184 (42.89)450 (58.52)489 (66.62)208 (68.2)139 (72.02)
        Black655 (26.95)169 (39.39)227 (29.52)167 (22.75)60 (19.67)32 (16.58)
        Hispanic156 (6.42)34 (7.93)42 (5.46)44 (5.99)21 (6.89)15 (7.77)
        Other149 (6.13)42 (9.79)50 (6.5)34 (4.63)16 (5.25)7 (3.63)
       Male gender2,300 (94.65)398 (92.77)745 (96.88)687 (93.6)284 (93.11)186 (96.37)0.005
       Married1,186 (48.81)105 (24.48)287 (37.32)420 (57.22)208 (68.2)166 (86.01)<0.001
      Smoking behaviors
       Cigarettes per day0.5
        ≤10866 (36.19)163 (38.81)274 (36.15)262 (36.34)95 (31.46)72 (37.5)
        11–201,010 (42.21)178 (42.38)313 (41.29)296 (41.05)142 (47.02)81 (42.19)
        ≥21517 (21.6)79 (18.81)171 (22.56)163 (22.61)65 (21.52)39 (20.31)
       Time to first cigarette, minutes<0.001
        ≥31674 (27.97)104 (24.36)198 (26.12)209 (28.67)90 (29.61)73 (38.02)
        6–301,244 (51.62)210 (49.18)391 (51.58)376 (51.58)169 (55.59)98 (51.04)
        <5492 (20.41)113 (26.46)169 (22.3)144 (19.75)45 (14.8)21 (10.94)
      Social and environmental pressures
       Home smoking rules<0.001
        Not allowed anywhere904 (39.22)124 (30.69)247 (34.26)278 (39.71)141 (48.12)114 (60.96)
        Allowed some places/times495 (21.48)89 (22.03)145 (20.11)160 (22.86)63 (21.5)38 (20.32)
        Allowed anywhere906 (39.31)191 (47.28)329 (45.63)262 (37.43)89 (30.38)35 (18.72)
       Friends who smoke<0.001
        None373 (16.28)58 (14.39)80 (11.13)131 (18.79)54 (18.82)50 (27.03)
        Less than half681 (29.73)88 (21.84)218 (30.32)196 (28.12)111 (38.68)68 (36.76)
        About half487 (21.26)83 (20.6)150 (20.86)160 (22.96)62 (21.6)32 (17.3)
        More than half447 (19.51)88 (21.84)151 (21)138 (19.8)42 (14.63)28 (15.14)
        All303 (13.23)86 (21.34)120 (16.69)72 (10.33)18 (6.27)7 (3.78)
       People important to me want me to quit smoking0.3
        Strongly disagree to neutral463 (20.26)90 (22.17)155 (21.65)142 (20.55)45 (15.63)31 (16.85)
        Somewhat agree526 (23.02)98 (24.14)171 (23.88)150 (21.71)65 (22.57)42 (22.83)
        Strongly agree1,296 (56.72)218 (53.69)390 (54.47)399 (57.74)178 (61.81)111 (60.33)
      Note: Boldface indicates statistical significance (p<0.05).
      The interaction between education X treatment arm was not statistically significant (p=0.07) with respect to 6-month prolonged abstinence at the 0.05 level. Smokers at each education level had higher observed abstinence rates if randomized to proactive care versus usual care (Figure 1A). In individual subgroup analyses, the proactive care intervention had the largest effect size among smokers in the lowest education category (≤11th grade), with a quit rate of 17.3% as compared with 5.7% in usual care (OR=3.5, 95% CI=1.4, 8.6; Table 3). Analyses accounting for nonresponse using likelihood-based NMAR models and multiple imputation showed similar results to the main analysis, including finding the highest intervention effect size among the lowest education category.
      Fig 1
      Figure 1Model-based proportion of smokers who reported 6-month prolonged abstinence at 1-year follow-up, by (A) education or (B) income level and treatment group.
      GED, General Educational Development test.
      Table 3Six-Month Prolonged Abstinence (n, Model-Based %) by Treatment Arm and SES Level, With Model-Based OR
      Participants, n (%)Complete case
      Complete case model: Usual care is reference group. Model controls for site, treatment arm, interaction between SES and treatment arm, gender, and age. Complete case includes follow-up survey responders for whom quit status is known.
      model,
      NMAR
      NMAR model: Usual care is reference group. Likelihood-based not missing at random (NMAR) model accounts for non-response.HS/GED, high school/General Educational Development test.
      model,
      SES levelUsual careProactive careOR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)
      Education
       n1,3421,2232,5655,123
      ≤11th grade, n=2396 (5.7)16 (17.3)3.46 (1.39, 8.59)2.05 (1.30, 3.24)
      HS/GED, n=1,03147 (10.8)46 (12.0)1.13 (0.76, 1.68)1.12 (0.91, 1.38)
      Some college, n=1,01636 (8.0)60 (14.6)1.96 (1.30, 2.96)1.42 (1.11, 1.82)
      ≥College, n=27912 (9.9)23 (18.6)2.09 (1.03, 4.27)1.57 (0.87, 2.82)
      Income, USD
       n1,2681,1622,4305,123
      <$10,000, n=42918 (9.4)32 (18.7)2.23 (1.24, 3.98)1.61 (1.09, 2.39)
      $10,000–$20,000, n=76929 (8.7)36 (11.7)1.40 (0.86, 2.28)1.17 (0.89, 1.54)
      $20,001–$40,000, n=73431 (9.8)45 (15.2)1.65 (1.04, 2.62)1.30 (1.00, 1.69)
      $40,001–$60,000, n=3059 (7.5)11 (11.9)1.65 (0.74, 2.69)1.54 (0.92, 2.56)
      >$60,000, n=19312 (13.5)12 (15.9)1.21 (0.53, 2.78)1.25 (0.70, 2.22)
      Note: Boldface indicates statistical significance (p<0.05).
      a Complete case model: Usual care is reference group. Model controls for site, treatment arm, interaction between SES and treatment arm, gender, and age. Complete case includes follow-up survey responders for whom quit status is known.
      b NMAR model: Usual care is reference group. Likelihood-based not missing at random (NMAR) model accounts for non-response.HS/GED, high school/General Educational Development test.
      The interaction between income X treatment arm was not statistically significant (p=0.74). Smokers at each income level had higher observed abstinence rates if randomized to proactive care versus usual care (Figure 1B). The proactive care intervention had the largest effect size among smokers in the lowest income range (<$10,000), with a quit rate of 18.7% as compared with 9.4% in usual care (OR=2.2, 95% CI=1.2, 4.0; Table 3). Analyses accounting for nonresponse using likelihood-based NMAR models and multiple imputation showed similar results to the main analysis, including finding the highest intervention effect size among the lowest income category.
      Treatment uptake and quit attempts are reported in Appendix A and Appendix Tables 1–4. Briefly, the interactions between education or income X treatment arm with respect to all secondary outcomes related to treatment uptake and quit attempts were not statistically significant. Smokers at each level of education and income who were randomized to proactive care were more likely to report using telephone counseling or combined therapy than those randomized to usual care. VA smoking cessation medication use showed a weaker response to the proactive care intervention and quit attempts did not differ significantly by treatment arm in most SES levels.

      DISCUSSION

      In a large, multicenter smoking-cessation trial, a proactive outreach intervention was associated with improved rates of prolonged abstinence among smokers at all SES levels. The largest effect sizes for the intervention were among smokers at the lowest SES levels, who are historically the least likely to quit successfully. A proactive approach to smoking cessation may both lower the overall population-level smoking rate, as shown in the primary outcomes paper,
      • Fu SS
      • van Ryn M
      • Sherman SE
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco treatment and population-level cessation: a pragmatic randomized clinical trial.
      and reduce SES-related smoking disparities, as shown here.
      These findings address a gap in evidence related to pro-equity smoking cessation support interventions. Cessation support interventions (including counseling, medications, or combined therapy) can have a net-negative impact on equity because they are less effective among low-SES smokers.
      • Hill S
      • Amos A
      • Clifford D
      • Platt S
      Impact of tobacco control interventions on socioeconomic inequalities in smoking: review of the evidence.
      • Main C
      • Thomas S
      • Ogilvie D
      • et al.
      Population tobacco control interventions and their effects on social inequalities in smoking: placing an equity lens on existing systematic reviews.
      A reactive treatment approach and the financial cost of treatment, often associated with lower use of cessation support services
      • Roddy E
      • Antoniak M
      • Britton J
      • Molyneux A
      • Lewis S
      Barriers and motivators to gaining access to smoking cessation services amongst deprived smokers—a qualitative study.
      and lower quit rates in low-SES populations, were overcome in this study by (1) using proactive outreach and telephone-based treatment and (2) facilitating access to free or low-cost cessation medications.
      Traditional smoking-cessation interventions rely on motivated smokers to seek out services. Smokers who independently call quitlines for support
      • Tzelepis F
      • Paul CL
      • Walsh RA
      • et al.
      Telephone recruitment into a randomized controlled trial of quitline support.
      or volunteer for intervention programs
      • Monso E
      • Campbell J
      • Tønnesen P
      • Gustavsson G
      • Morera J
      Sociodemographic predictors of success in smoking intervention.
      are more likely to come from a higher educational background than the general smoking population. By proactively calling smokers, the proactive outreach intervention addressed the fear of being judged, fear of failure, and lack of knowledge
      • Murray RL
      • Bauld L
      • Hackshaw LE
      • McNeill A
      Improving access to smoking cessation services for disadvantaged groups: a systematic review.
      that may prevent low-SES smokers from seeking assistance. In addition, this telephone-based intervention did not rely on smokers to interface with the healthcare system directly, potentially increasing utilization by low-SES smokers.
      • Bryant J
      • Bonevski B
      • Paul C
      • McElduff P
      • Attia J
      A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effectiveness of behavioural smoking cessation interventions in selected disadvantaged groups.
      The cost of cessation medications is also a barrier to seeking and using care,
      • Beauchamp A
      • Peeters A
      • Tonkin A
      • Turrell G
      Best practice for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease through an equity lens: a review.
      and most low-income U.S. smokers are unaware of insurance-subsidized treatment benefits.
      • McMenamin SB
      • Halpin HA
      • Bellows NM
      Knowledge of Medicaid coverage and effectiveness of smoking treatments.
      Integrating the offer of free or low-cost cessation medications with proactive outreach increased awareness of their availability, which is associated with increased utilization.
      • McMenamin SB
      • Halpin HA
      • Bellows NM
      Knowledge of Medicaid coverage and effectiveness of smoking treatments.
      Several studies have used proactive outreach to recruit smokers to quit,
      • Abdullah ASM
      • Mak YW
      • Loke AY
      • Lam TH
      Smoking cessation intervention in parents of young children: a randomised controlled trial.
      • Aveyard P
      • Griffin C
      • Lawrence T
      • Cheng K
      A controlled trial of an expert system and self-help manual intervention based on the stages of change versus standard self-help materials in smoking cessation.
      • McBride CM
      • Scholes D
      • Grothaus LC
      • Curry SJ
      • Ludman E
      • Albright J
      Evaluation of a minimal self-help smoking cessation intervention following cervical cancer screening.
      • Curry SJ
      • McBride C
      • Grothaus LC
      • Louie D
      • Wagner EH
      A randomized trial of self-help materials, personalized feedback, and telephone counseling with nonvolunteer smokers.
      • Lichtenstein E
      • Boles SM
      • Lee ME
      • Hampson SE
      • Glasgow RE
      • Fellows J
      Using radon risk to motivate smoking reduction II: randomized evaluation of brief telephone counseling and a targeted video.
      • Lichtenstein E
      • Andrews JA
      • Lee ME
      • Glasgow RE
      • Hampson SE
      Using radon risk to motivate smoking reduction: evaluation of written materials and brief telephone counselling.
      • Prochaska JO
      • Velicer WF
      • Fava JL
      • et al.
      Counselor and stimulus control enhancements of a stage-matched expert system intervention for smokers in a managed care setting.
      • Tzelepis F
      • Paul CL
      • Wiggers J
      • et al.
      A randomised controlled trial of proactive telephone counselling on cold-called smokers’ cessation rates.
      though none have evaluated the differential effect of proactive outreach interventions on smokers at different SES levels. Tzelepis et al.
      • Tzelepis F
      • Paul CL
      • Walsh RA
      • Wiggers J
      • Duncan SL
      • Knight J
      Predictors of abstinence among smokers recruited actively to quitline support.
      evaluated the overall relationship between SES and prolonged abstinence among actively recruited smokers. They found only short-term cessation success for the primary intervention,
      • Tzelepis F
      • Paul CL
      • Wiggers J
      • et al.
      A randomised controlled trial of proactive telephone counselling on cold-called smokers’ cessation rates.
      and reported that among all smokers, being employed predicted one abstinence outcome at one timepoint, but other SES measures (education and private insurance) were not associated with abstinence.
      • Tzelepis F
      • Paul CL
      • Walsh RA
      • Wiggers J
      • Duncan SL
      • Knight J
      Predictors of abstinence among smokers recruited actively to quitline support.
      They did not assess the interaction between treatment group and SES. A pooled analysis of the intervention groups from five proactively recruited smoking-cessation studies (combined n=2,972) found a small but significant positive effect of education on point-prevalent abstinence at 12 and 24 months’ follow-up.
      • Velicer WF
      • Redding CA
      • Sun X
      • Prochaska JO
      Demographic variables, smoking variables, and outcome across five studies.
      Qualitatively, a similar pattern was observed among smokers of different education levels within the proactive care arm of this trial, for all except the lowest education level. The current study is enriched by the comparison with abstinence rates across education levels in the usual-care group arm.
      Proactive outreach has recently been shown to decrease smoking in low-SES populations in studies that did not include higher-SES smokers.
      • Haas JS
      • Linder JA
      • Park ER
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco cessation outreach to smokers of low socioeconomic status: a randomized clinical trial.
      • Fu SS
      • van Ryn M
      • Nelson D
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco treatment offering free nicotine replacement therapy and telephone counselling for socioeconomically disadvantaged smokers: a randomised clinical trial.
      A comparable effect size at all SES levels was expected in the present study because knowledge, access, and utilization of the intervention were not contingent on individual or community resources. The nonsignificant interaction term supported this hypothesis, but it is surprising to find that the largest effect sizes for the intervention were in the lowest SES groups. Relatively high observed prolonged abstinence rates of 17% (11th grade education or less) or nearly 19% (less than $10,000 annual income) were unanticipated given that, consistent with historical patterns,
      • Siahpush M
      • McNeill A
      • Borland R
      • Fong GT
      Socioeconomic variations in nicotine dependence, self-efficacy, and intention to quit across four countries: findings from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey.
      • Kotz D
      • West R
      Explaining the social gradient in smoking cessation: it's not in the trying, but in the succeeding.
      low-SES smokers were heavier smokers with lower social and environmental pressures to quit. Variation in the utilization of cessation treatments or number of quit attempts (the secondary outcomes analyzed) did not explain this result.
      Other possible explanations merit exploration. First, there may be pent-up demand for cessation assistance among low-SES smokers that leads to a preferential response to proactive outreach. Low-SES smokers making a first or second supported quit attempt may be more successful than high-SES smokers who have failed many previous quit attempts. One quitline evaluation found a stronger relationship between nicotine replacement therapy use and abstinence among low-SES smokers compared with high-SES smokers.
      • Murray RL
      • Bauld L
      • Hackshaw LE
      • McNeill A
      Improving access to smoking cessation services for disadvantaged groups: a systematic review.
      On the other hand, higher-SES individuals who continue to smoke despite lower levels of nicotine dependence, high social and environmental pressures to quit, and many available quit resources may be resistant to additional outreach. Additionally, recent work by Hammett and colleagues
      • Hammett P
      • Fu SS
      • Nelson D
      • et al.
      A proactive smoking cessation intervention for socioeconomically disadvantaged smokers: the role of smoking-related stigma.
      confirmed that low-SES smokers often experience lower levels of perceived smoking-related stigma, or the social unacceptability of smoking. Low-SES smokers with a lower level of perceived smoking-related stigma at baseline reported higher abstinence rates at 1-year in response to a proactive outreach intervention than those with higher baseline levels of smoking-related stigma. It was hypothesized that proactive outreach contributed to denormalization of smoking among low-SES smokers whose social environments were conducive to tobacco use.
      In this trial, capturing smoking status in the electronic medical record made it possible to proactively reach out to all smokers, regardless of intent to quit, to facilitate cessation assistance. Although the VA healthcare system was one of the first to adopt this practice, it is a recommended component of system-level change for smoking cessation that is becoming widespread.
      • Thomas D
      • Abramson MJ
      • Bonevski B
      • George J
      System change interventions for smoking cessation.
      This strategy helped connect vulnerable subpopulations of smokers to evidence-based cessation treatments. Future trials of outreach to smokers, which are increasingly relying on mobile health technology,
      • Free C
      • Phillips G
      • Galli L
      • et al.
      The effectiveness of mobile-health technology-based health behaviour change or disease management interventions for health care consumers: a systematic review.
      • Heffner JL
      • Mull KE
      Smartphone ownership among U.S. adult cigarette smokers: 2014 Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) data.
      interactive voice response,
      • Haas JS
      • Linder JA
      • Park ER
      • et al.
      Proactive tobacco cessation outreach to smokers of low socioeconomic status: a randomized clinical trial.
      and text messaging,
      • Free C
      • Phillips G
      • Galli L
      • et al.
      The effectiveness of mobile-health technology-based health behaviour change or disease management interventions for health care consumers: a systematic review.
      ,
      • Whittaker R
      • Borland R
      • Bullen C
      • Lin RB
      • McRobbie H
      • Rodgers A
      Mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation.
      • Armanasco AA
      • Miller YD
      • Fjeldsoe BS
      • Marshall AL
      Preventive health behavior change text message interventions: a meta-analysis.
      • Abroms LC
      • Johnson PR
      • Leavitt LE
      • et al.
      A randomized trial of text messaging for smoking cessation in pregnant women.
      should evaluate how those technologies address the needs of smokers at all SES levels.
      • Hammett P
      • Fu SS
      • Nelson D
      • et al.
      A proactive smoking cessation intervention for socioeconomically disadvantaged smokers: the role of smoking-related stigma.

      Limitations

      Prolonged abstinence is a self-reported measure that may be subject to social desirability bias. However, multiple studies have validated smoking self-report,
      • Yeager DS
      • Krosnick JA
      The validity of self-reported nicotine product use in the 2001–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
      • Patrick DL
      • Cheadle A
      • Thompson DC
      • Diehr P
      • Koepsell T
      • Kinne S
      The validity of self-reported smoking: a review and meta-analysis.
      including among VA smokers,
      • Noonan D
      • Jiang Y
      • Duffy SA
      Utility of biochemical verification of tobacco cessation in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
      and most research has failed to identify systematic differences in the risk of misclassification of smokers by SES level.
      • Vartiainen E
      • Seppälä T
      • Lillsunde P
      • Puska P
      Validation of self reported smoking by serum cotinine measurement in a community-based study.
      • Graham H
      • Owen L
      Are there socioeconomic differentials in under-reporting of smoking in pregnancy.
      Interaction tests may be underpowered, and the original trial was not designed to detect subgroup effects by SES level. The population of mostly male U.S. Veterans limits generalizability to female Veterans and non-Veterans. Finally, SES is a complex construct that is only partially captured by measured variables, such as education and income levels. Race, class, occupation, and subjective social standing all contribute to SES, but are outside the scope of this paper. For an analysis of the effect of proactive outreach on prolonged abstinence among African American and white smokers in the Victory trial, please see Burgess et al.
      • Burgess DJ
      • Van Ryn M
      • Noorbaloochi S
      • et al.
      Smoking cessation among African American and white smokers in the Veterans Affairs health care system.

      CONCLUSIONS

      Future tobacco control policies and interventions must promote equity. Proactive outreach interventions have the potential to decrease population-level smoking prevalence while reducing smoking-related disparities.

      ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

      The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the U.S. government.
      This study was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Research and Development, and Health Services Research and Development (IAB-05-303).
      ED collaborated on the conceptualization of this study, guided the analytic approach, interpreted the results, and wrote most sections of the draft manuscript. She oversaw all aspects of this study and takes full and final responsibility for the paper. SF secured funding for and designed the original Victory trial and collaborated on the conceptualization of the current analysis. SN and BC designed and carried out the statistical analysis and assisted with interpretation and wrote sections of the methods and results. RW and PH collaborated on the conceptualization of this study, critically revised the manuscript, and read and approved the final submitted version. DB is the senior author on the paper; she led the conceptualization and helped design the analytic approach, interpret the study findings, and revise the manuscript. All authors critically read, provided feedback, and edited the final paper.
      Registered in clinicaltrials.gov (NCT00608426).
      Earlier versions of this study were presented in a poster presentation at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (Florence, Italy, March 2017); the Society for General Internal Medicine (Washington, DC, April 2017); and the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development National Conference (Washington, DC, July 2017).
      No financial disclosures were reported by the authors of this paper.

      Appendix. Supplementary materials

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