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Identifying Which Smartphone App Features Aid Smoking Cessation

Smoking has been associated with the deaths of nearly six million people worldwide each year. So it’s no wonder there are over 400 smartphone applications, or apps, available to help people quit smoking. But which ones really work? And why?

Over 780,000 smoking cessation apps are downloaded per month, however, very little research has been done to research whether these apps really help people quit or not, until now.

Dr. Jaimee Heffner, PhD, and Dr. Jonathan Bricker, PhD, along with colleagues in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center evaluated the effectiveness of certain smartphone app techniques by tracking usage of 41 different app features, and then comparing this use against whether users successfully quit smoking. The team hopes this research will help increase the effectiveness of their recently piloted app “SmartQuit”.

“By studying how users engage with specific app features and whether use of these features predicts successful smoking cessation," said lead author Dr. Heffner, "we are identifying the basic building blocks needed to create effective interventions on the smartphone app platform, which reaches millions of smokers each year and has the potential to transform treatment delivery."

To the researchers’ surprise, “only 2 of the top 10 most-used features were prospectively associated with 30 days abstinence at the 60 day follow-up: viewing the quit plan and tracking the practice of letting urges pass.”

By updating and continually evaluating the effectiveness of cessation apps, researchers can more accurately predict which features will be most likely to help people quit smoking. The team adds that additional future work will allow for future experimentation of the causal relationships between feature usage and smoking cessation. "This would provide the most accurate and rigorous test of the each feature’s contribution to successful quitting,” said Dr. Heffner.

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