SMOKING

Do Smoking Cessation Apps Work?

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
 | 
May 21, 2015

Research on apps to help you kick (cigarette) butts is sparse, but some quit-smoking apps are backed by science.

You know smoking is bad for your health, your pocketbook and, because of second hand smoke, your loved ones. You want to quit but you want to do it quietly on your own — and having help at your fingertips to stay on course would be ideal.

This approach to giving up cigarettes sounds reasonable, and it has spurred the creation of hundreds of quit-smoking apps over the past several years. Although an estimated 11 million smokers in the U.S. own a smartphone and increasingly have tried using apps to kick their nicotine habit, that doesn’t mean many of the quit-smoking applications helped, according to researchers from George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and the American Cancer Society.  

In fact, the researchers found that basic, proven smoking cessation strategies weren’t included in many of the most popular quit-smoking apps for iPhones and Androids.  

For example, the apps studied failed to give users information about free quit-lines manned by trained counselors, even though using these toll-free resources more than doubles the chances a smoker will successfully give up cigarettes. The apps typically didn’t help smokers develop a personal quit-smoking plan, either. And fewer than one in 20 smoking cessation apps recommended medication to help resist nicotine cravings.

"Quit-smoking apps are an increasingly available tool for smokers," said Lorien Abroms, ScD, of George Washington University. "Yet our study suggests these apps have a long way to go to comply with practices that we know can help people stub out that last cigarette."

While more research needs to be done on behavior modifying apps, scientists are beginning to research which quit-smoking apps work and how. “In a world where many people prefer a do-it-yourself approach, it is becoming increasingly important to test the programs being delivered via these new technologies,” said Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center psychologist and smoking cessation app researcher Jonathan Bricker, PhD.  

In the first-ever study of any smartphone app for quitting smoking, Bricker and colleagues randomly assigned about 200 smokers who wanted to quit cigarettes to one of two quit-smoking apps — the SmartQuit app created by Bricker or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) QuitGuide app. The study was double blind, so neither the smokers nor the researchers knew which quit-smoking app the study participants were using until the study ended.  

The initial results showed that both smoking cessation apps helped some smokers quit cigarettes — but the SmartQuit app was 60 percent more effective than the NIH app. And people using the SmartQuit app were two and a half to three times more likely to stop smoking than smokers who try to quit on their own, without help. (The authors concluded, however, their initial sample size was small and recommend a full-scale efficacy trial.)

2Morrow, Inc., a Seattle-based mobile software company, partnered with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to market the SmartQuit app. To find out if it can help you kick cigarettes out of your life, you can download a free “light” version of SmartQuit or purchase the more extensive version at iTunes and Android app stores.  

After you answer a few questions about yourself, the app provides an individualized quit smoking program, tips on dealing with urges, and eight lessons on how to stop smoking, daily tracking, and anytime coaching. Those who complete the app-generated program successfully and stop smoking receive a certificate of accomplishment, too.

Whether or not a quit-smoking app works for you, there is another well-researched way phones can help smokers kick their cigarette habit. "They should simply pick up their smartphone and call a quit-line now to get proven help on how to beat a tobacco addiction,” said Lorien Abroms. (For quit line phone numbers and other tips, see You CAN Quit Smoking.)

Updated:

May 21, 2015

Reviewed By:

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA

Easy access to health records and personalized content.