CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The University of Virginia Health System is teaming up with more than a dozen community pharmacies in Appalachia.

According to a release, this partnership aims to help residents in rural Appalachia quit smoking and test the effectiveness of several smoking cessation programs.

The specific aim of this project is to lower the region’s cancer rates, which UVA Health says are among the highest in the country.

There are 14 pharmacies that have been picked for this program in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee, backed by $5 million from the National Cancer Institute.

“It is clear that publicly available smoking cessation resources are not reaching residents in this region,” said Melissa Little, PhD, MPH, a researcher in the UVA School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the leader of this initiative. “We are hoping that by working with local community pharmacies, we’ll be able to help more smokers interested in quitting who otherwise may not have sought help with their quit attempt.”

The release says data from 2015 to 2019 found the smoking rate in rural Appalachian counties was 20.9 percent, compared to a smoking rate of 13.3 percent in the rest of the state.

Studies have also found that cigarette smoking is estimated to account for 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.

However, residents in rural Appalachian areas are less likely to use existing resources to quit smoking, such as phone counseling and nicotine-replacement therapy.

Little says she suspects this is due to a shortage of health care providers across the region.

She also believes community pharmacists in the region are well positioned to help.

A demonstration study found this kind of partnership can be well received by those looking to quit as well as pharmacists and technicians.

The release says this program aims to evaluate the effectiveness of different combinations of smoking cessation programs, with more than 750 participants expected to receive some form of nicotine-replacement therapy.

Program participants will also be randomly selected to participate in QuitAid, Tobacco Quitline, and SmokefreeTXT.

This study is expected to begin in April 2023.

Pharmacies or smokers that would be interested in participating can learn more by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling (434) 924-8894.