Kickin’ Butts

Apps Help Quit Cigarettes

Could phone apps be the key to nixing smoking habits?

By Sean Zucker –

There is little pushback these days on the health hazards tied to smoking cigarettes. What was once contended is now recognized fact that the chemicals in cigarettes offer a combined ticket to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease. Despite virtually everyone now being in the know, smoking remains a prevalent vice for many people. Luckily, a breaking study out of Seattle suggest this age-old problem may be solved with some new-age technology.

This is actually some other good news on the smoking front as well. The number of people puffing on butts has decline massively in recent years. The Center For Disease Control (CDC), for example, reports that smoking among U.S. adults hit an all-time low late last year at 13.7 percent. Of course, the bad news is that this means more than 34.2 million adults—or one in seven Americans—are still burning their lungs.

The continuing tobacco scourge is more disheartening because just when it appeared to be in full retreat, it has found a new ally of sorts in vape. As one of the largest growing industries in the world, vape has revived nicotine smoking through slick packaging and ad campaigns that often mirror the early days of cigarette promotion. While vaping is slightly less harmful than normal cigarette smoking, the CDC warns the difference is small. The center goes on to  recommend that vaping only be used as a short-term tool to wean a smoker off tobacco and nicotine. No one, the CDC adds, who is not using tobacco products should start using e-cigarettes or vaping products. That advice, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be gaining much traction. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration reports that its latest data in 2018 saw a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette and vape use among high school students.

To say there is a desperate need to find a new way to curb this behavior might just qualify the understatement of the decade. Thankfully, joint research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington point towards a promising remedy. The findings, originally published in JAMA Internal Medicine, indicate that apps based on acknowledgement and acceptance of smoking cravings can increase a smoker’s ability to kick the habit.

The study recruited 2,415 adult smokers who were then split into two groups. The first set used iCanQuit, an app that the researchers developed based on encouraging acceptance of smoking triggers and commitment therapy to help change behavior. The second group used the National Cancer Institute’s QuitGuide, an app designed to help people quit smoking by the traditional means of avoiding triggers and attempting to ignore the desire to light up.

“The problem is that when you try to avoid what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, you paradoxically create more of what you’re trying to avoid,” said Jonathan Bricker, lead author of the study and a professor in the cancer prevention program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle when speaking with CNN.

Bricker apparently knew what he was talking about. After an initial trial period of 30 days and multiple follow ups at 3, 6 and 12 months, the study found that those smokers who used the iCanQuit app were 1.49 times more likely to quit smoking than participants who used the QuitGuide app.

As Bricker maintained, it is more effective to accept the existence of cravings rather than try to eliminate because it eases the internal conflict many smokers have over their desire for a cigarette. Alternatively, discounting cravings can lead to a pent-up desires that result in  impulsive outbursts.

The researchers concluded that the app helping people accept, rather than avoid, cravings was 50 percent more effective at controlling the urge to smoke. What could this mean in practical terms? Plenty, according to the researchers. They claim that out of 100,000 smokers, at least  28,000 could be successfully weaned of smoking if they used the iCanQuit app.

“This elevates apps as an effective way of quitting smoking,” Bricker said. “Up to this point, there just wasn’t much data about whether apps worked.”

 

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