The Great American Smokeout takes place today as smokers across the country are encouraged by the American Cancer Society to quit for the next 24 hours. If you’re a smoker and want to quit for good, a new app called SmartQuit may provide a solution.
“It’s almost like having a virtual coach in your pocket who’s there to help you with the process of quitting,” explained Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a psychologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who developed the app in collaboration with the company 2Morrow.
Dr. Bricker, who will give a TED Talk in Seattle on Saturday, spoke with Not Impossible Now about how the SmartQuit app helps smokers kick the habit. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
NIN: What makes SmartQuit different from other smoking cessation apps?
Dr. Jonathan Bricker: It’s the first app based on science for smoking cessation that has shown to be helpful for quitting smoking. Unlike all the other apps for smoking cessation, none have actually been tested for their effectiveness for smoking cessation. So that’s a huge difference.
It [also] uses an innovative method for quitting smoking, unlike other apps that focus a lot on tracking your cigarette [use], which can lead to self-judgment and shame. Because most people who try to quit, they slip. They smoked more than they hoped. And when you’re reminded of how much you smoked, you just feel worse.
We don’t take that approach. We take a very positive approach where we focus on tracking your cravings and then giving you a totally different way to deal with your cravings than any other app provides.
How has technology and apps like SmartQuit made an impact on treatment plans for smokers?
Dr. Bricker: The app helps you track your cravings in a very simple way and a much more convenient way than you ever were able to. Before, I had to have people go to a website or fill out a journal that they carried with them. They’re much less convenient than having the app to quickly record your cravings as you have them.
The ease and convenience of getting on-demand coaching for quitting in the form of exercises that the app provides you [was something] you were never able to do before. You would have to remember exercises that someone taught you at class. But now, you can get that on demand when you have a craving. And so it’s convenience and context in the moment when you have a craving that’s very helpful that other programs don’t have.
The relationship that people have with technology has changed in the last five years. People have a much more intimate relationship with their phones than they’ve ever had. I think the iPhone was part of that. I don’t want to give credit to just one company, but it was part of that shift seven years ago when the iPhone came out. People developed a much closer relationship to their phones.
We are able to capitalize on that relationship by providing this intervention through the smartphone. It’s almost like having a virtual coach in your pocket who’s there to help you with the process of quitting. We couldn’t have done that seven years ago.
The Great American Smokeout encourages people to quit smoking for the day. What’s the benefit for quitting just for 24 hours?
Dr. Bricker: The Great American Smokeout is a great stimulus for attempting to quit. It creates a national conversation about smoking. Because a lot of people, especially in metropolitan parts of the country where smoking rates are lower, will say, “Haven’t we already solved this problem?” And the truth is, we have not. We’ve solved half the problem.
Our rate of smoking is half of what it was 50 years ago when the surgeon general's report was published on the dangers of smoking. But the truth is, 43 million Americans still smoke. A billion people smoke worldwide. There’s close to 7 billion people in the world, so one-seventh of the population smokes. So the Great American Smokeout remind us that this is still a problem. It’s a very expensive problem; it costs $300 billion a year in health care costs and loss of productivity costs in the United States alone. It causes 6 million deaths a year.
The message is to stop smoking for a day. We know that a very small fraction, probably up to 5 percent, actually succeed once they’ve quit for one day. But the more you get people to try to quit, the more likely they will quit for good.
Top photo courtesy of 2Morrow.