Smoking Cessation – There are Apps for That! But are They Effective?
It’s that time of the year again when many resolve to quit smoking. A growing number of smoking cessation apps for smart phones are out on the market. But are there any good ones?
The jury is still out.
A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined the content of popular apps available on iPhone and Android devices to see how well they adhered to the U.S. Public Health Service’s 2008 Clinical Practice Guideline for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence.
The apps were categorized based on their primary approach toward smoking cessation, including:
- Calculators that track how much money is saved and the health benefits gained after quitting
- Hypnosis techniques
- Rationing strategies that limit the amount of cigarettes and/or the time they can be smoked
- Calendars/trackers that count the days leading up to and following the user’s quit date
- Informational apps that focus on informing users about quitting
- A “lung health tester” that claims to measure lung capacity by having the person blow into the microphone of their phone
- A “game” app that offers a game for quitting
Researchers found that overall the apps had low levels of adherence to the best practices for smoking cessation outlined in guidelines. They also lacked many of the elements that are generally recommended to quit smoking. The apps instead provided users with the tools to self-monitor their nicotine use. However, researchers have found that self-monitoring alone is not enough to lead to a lasting behavior change in the case of severe addiction.
Less than one-fifth of apps offered users counseling or advice on how to quit/stay quit, provided options within the app for gaining social support for quitting, or provided help on managing obstacles when quitting.
None of the apps in the study recommended calling a quitline or included text messaging, both of which have been found to be effective to help quit smoking. Only a few recommended using approved medications or included the use of text alerts (the most tested and proven method of smoking cessation available through mobile phones). The apps also largely ignored nicotine replacement therapy, which researchers have found can improve quit rates.
The study noted some strengths among the apps, including that the majority were specific to smoking and that the interactive features offered by some included community bulletin boards and/or links to Facebook and Twitter.
It should be noted that the Clinical Practice Guideline for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence was created for a clinical setting and may not be appropriate for mobile phone apps.
Although more research needs to be done to see how effective they really are, the potential is there for smoking cessation apps on mobile phones to really help. As a society that is nearly always just an arm’s reach from a mobile phone, these findings could be promising for those looking to kick the nicotine habit.
Looking for more information on how to quit smoking? Check out page 11 of our Patient Guide.
Nancy Gavilanes, MA
Nancy Gavilanes is a Family Day Specialist at CASAColumbia