Smartphone Apps to Help Smokers Quit Come Up Short

Release Date: November 14, 2013 | By Sharyn Alden, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine


  • Most popular smartphone apps do not include evidence-based practices known to help smokers quit.
  • Telephone quit lines provide science-based guidance for people attempting to quit smoking.
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Many of the 11 million smokers in the U.S. have downloaded smartphone apps created to help them quit smoking. But since most of these apps don’t include practices proven to help smokers quit, they may not be getting the help they need, reports a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Currently available, popular (most downloaded) smoking cessation apps have low levels of adherence to key evidence-based practices and few apps provide counseling on how to quit, recommend approved quit smoking medications or refer a user to a quit line,” said the study’s lead author Lorien C. Abroms, ScD., assistant professor at the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services.

“Still, there appears to be a high global demand for smoking cessation apps since over 700,000 apps are downloaded each month for the Android operating system alone,” he said.

Abroms and his colleagues analyzed popular smoking cessation apps in February 2012. Researchers studied the most popular apps—47 for the iPhone and 51 for the Android operating system—and found that apps for both systems had a low adherence to the U.S. Public Health Service’s Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence.

Michael C. Fiore, M.D., MPH, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health pointed out that “even though the study found that popular smoking cessation apps have a low level of adherence to evidence-based guidelines, it is a hopeful sign that people want to quit and scientists and technicians are coming up with applications to help them. But the bad news is smartphone apps may not give people the guidance they need.”

Researchers acknowledge that while they know what helps people quit smoking generally, little is known about what aspects of smoking cessation programs should be included in mobile apps. Still, Abroms noted that “they [smartphone apps] do not promote aspects of treatments that have proven to work in quitting smoking and so we as public health professionals have reason to be concerned.” 

“What we’re missing with smartphone apps is universally recognized, science-based recommendations,” said Fiore. “We’re obliged to give smokers the best possible, quality help. Science-based help is what smokers get when they call quit lines—there are over 1,000 quit lines available to U.S. smokers and that’s where they can get one-stop help.”

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or [email protected].

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (858) 534-9340 or [email protected].

Lorien C Abroms, (2013). A Content Analysis of Popular Smartphone Apps for Smoking Cessation, American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Tags for this article:
Smoking   Health Information Technology   Evidence-Based Medicine   Participate in your Treatment   Promote your Health  

Comments on this article
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John MacKenzie says
November 16, 2013 at 9:53 AM

I wrote this in June, 2013 and posted it on Blogger. It got 14 page views, that's all. I followed all of the "evidence-based" practices in my attempts to quit. Here's what worked.

Do I know everything there is to know about quitting ? Nope. But I do know what worked for me after smoking a pack a day (Marlboro kings, in the end) for about 48 years. I know what finally worked after I had tried and failed a dozen times at least, using gum, the patch, pills and special filters or doing it cold turkey. (I can’t say anything about acupuncture because I never tried it and I never licked an ash tray).

What will it cost you? One more months’ worth of cigarettes; that’s it. Chances are you were going to buy them anyway. There will be no discomfort, no frustration because you can’t light up when you need to, no crankiness. Sounds crazy, right?

All I’m going to suggest is to smoke for one more month. But you’re going to do it my way – which means, YOUR way. You’re going to take all of your smoke breaks and light up just as you always do – when the urge kicks in.

Except that when you do, now you’re going to TAKE IT EASY with that cigarette. You’re going to take your time, draw slowly, draw easy. That’s it. By the end of day one, whether you smoke a pack or more, you’ll be on your way to quitting for good, forever, by the end of the month.

What about day two? Remember to take all of your smoke breaks and light up just as you always do – when the urge kicks in. Every time you take it easy or chat a bit between puffs, you’ll be reducing your brain’s dependence on nicotine, slowly and steadily, but surely.

Don’t worry if people look at you funny when you’re taking your smoke breaks. They have no clue about your plan, your roadmap or your goal. At the end of the first week, you will still be buying cigarettes and smoking a pack a day (or more), but not the same way you were smoking the week before. You might even find yourself putting out your cigarette a little sooner each time you light up.

What about week two? Remember, once again, to take all of your smoke breaks and light up just as you always do – when the urge kicks in. Then take your time, draw slow, draw easy. Don’t skip your breaks or stretch them out, on purpose. Let your brain tell you when to light up, each and every day.

By the start of week three, chances are you’ll be smoking half as much as before (in terms of both nicotine and “inhaled smoke”). But you’re not ready to quit for good, just yet. You’ve got two more weeks of smoking still to go. You may notice that your cigarette is starting to taste a little funny, but it probably still smells good. Keep taking it easy.

Week four means you’re almost home, smoke-free. Let your brain tell you when to light up. Then take your time, draw slowly and draw easy. Right to the last day, right up to your last cigarette. There’s a good chance you may not have lit up at all. You’re just standing there, cigarette in hand.

For the next couple of weeks, keep taking your smoke breaks. Chat with your friends. They may or may not notice that you're not smoking. You won; you beat the habit.