A smoking-cessation app created at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center helped 21 percent of its users quit cigarettes — a success rate that’s two to three times higher than habit-busting outcomes achieved by other online methods, a new study found.
The results were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence on Thursday, which coincided with the Great American Smokeout, a day when many people purposely douse their cigarette use for at least 24 hours.
The smartphone-based app, called SmartQuit 2.0, also helped 75 percent of trial participants reduce their smoking, said Dr. Jonathan Bricker, the Fred Hutch psychologist and smoking cessation researcher who led the single-arm study. The app is based on Bricker's research and was developed by the Seattle company 2Morrow.
“What we found were very promising results … very very hopeful,” Bricker said during a Facebook Live chat Thursday.
Online smoking cessation tools typically offer a quit rate of 8 to 10 percent. About 40 million Americans currently smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use is still the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the world, according to the American Cancer Society.
Bricker said that SmartQuit 2.0 helps users become aware of the triggers for their nicotine cravings, which can include feelings of boredom, happiness or stress, or simply the persistent thought, “I really need a cigarette right now.” From there, the app uses a series of exercises to help users let their tobacco cravings pass.
“What we mean by that is just being aware of your cravings and letting them go away on [their] own without acting on them, without having a cigarette,” Bricker said. “For a lot of people, that’s a real eye opener — they realize, ‘you mean I really don’t have to act on my cravings?’ They realize that in just a few minutes those cravings will pass on their own, if they just wait.”
The app, which is available for Apple and Android devices, also provides motivational tips to help users remain passionate about why they want to stop smoking, including reminders of what’s important in their lives, Bricker said.
The American Cancer Society has designated the third Thursday in November as the Great American Smokeout, a national event that encourages people to make a plan to quit, to stop smoking that day, or to coax smokers they know to halt the habit. The organization also offers tips to quit, including formulating a strategy to stop and methods to stay tobacco-free after quitting.
Bricker also recommends that smokers who are looking to end their addictions access the government’s website smokefree.gov for encouragement, advice and access to counselors and experts for guidance. People can also call their “quitlines” in their states via 800-QUIT-NOW.
“Even if you quit smoking for just one day, you’re starting to make an important quit attempt and move you toward a smoke-free life,” Bricker said.
“You just have to keep trying and trying. And the people who keep trying have the most likelihood of quitting smoking,” Bricker said. “It usually takes about eight to nine quit attempts to finally be successful, so look at today as the beginning of a journey of a smoke-free life.”
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Bill Briggs is a former Fred Hutch News Service staff writer. Follow him at @writerdude. Previously, he was a contributing writer for NBCNews.com and TODAY.com, covering breaking news, health and the military. Prior, he was a staff writer for The Denver Post, part of the newspaper's team that earned the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Columbine High School massacre. He has authored two books, including "The Third Miracle: an Ordinary Man, a medical Mystery, and a Trial of Faith."