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Smartphone Apps Lack Proven Strategies to Help Smokers Quit

An estimated 11 million smokers in the United States own a smartphone, and increasingly they’re turning to apps in an attempt to quit. But many of the most popular antismoking smartphone apps lack some basic strategies that are known to help smokers quit, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Quit-smoking apps are an increasingly available tool for smokers,” says lead author Lorien Abroms, ScD, an associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. “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.”

Abroms, J. Lee Westmaas, PhD, from the American Cancer Society, and others on the team collected data on smoking cessation apps for the iPhone and Android, the two leading smartphone operating systems. They found smoking cessation apps for smartphones were in high demand around the world, with more than 700,000 such apps downloaded every month for Android phones alone. This popularity may demonstrate smokers’ strong desire to quit smoking.

The researchers identified 414 smoking cessation apps and zeroed in on the 50 most popular ones from each operating system. The team analyzed each app’s approach to smoking cessation, including their adherence to guidelines established by the U.S. Public Health Service on treating tobacco use. The guidelines review decades of scientific studies and offer recommendations on the most effective ways to beat a tobacco habit.

Overall, the study found that the most popular apps did not give smokers the best treatment options—at least from a clinical practice standpoint. For example, none of the apps in this study recommended that smokers call a quit line. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, such counseling can more than double a smoker’s chance of successfully ending his or her smoking habit.

And fewer than one in 20 apps recommended that smokers try medication to help them resist the cravings for a smoke. Researchers know that nicotine replacement therapy can be a highly effective tool, especially when used in conjunction with a quit line. In fact, a smoker’s chances of quitting more than triple by using such counseling. Most apps also lacked basic advice on how to quit smoking and did not provide assistance in setting up a quit plan, the authors say.

This study had some limitations, including the fact that it does not offer any insight on how the apps are being used once downloaded and whether people are using them in combination with other effective methods. The research suggests that people should use popular apps with some level of caution and probably not as a stand-alone method for quitting.

In fact, Abroms suggests smokers consider making a phone call instead of using an app: “They should simply pick up their smartphone and call a quit line now to get proven help on how to beat a tobacco addiction.”

— Source: George Washington University