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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

May 2, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Have an iPhone? Want to quit smoking? Fred Hutch study needs a few more subjects

Dr. Jonathan Bricker swipes through an iPhone, the platform for his upcoming study. (Photo: Bo Jungmayer)

Dr. Jonathan Bricker swipes through an iPhone, the platform for his upcoming study. (Photo: Bo Jungmayer)

There are apps to help smokers quit. But which ones work best?

Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Bricker is gathering subjects for a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center study to test two apps that would help people quit two different ways. Bricker’s Smart Quit study needs just 35 more subjects to reach its goal of 200 by May 11.

Have you smoked five times a day for at least a year? Do you want to quit in the next 30 days?

This could be an interesting way to try.

Bricker believes this is the first to scientifically test quitting regimens on your smartphone, a promising place to develop ways to curb bad habits when you consider that the support it holds is always with you. Subjects receive $25 after taking several online questionnaires.

I asked Bricker a few questions today about the study:

Q: I imagine you can’t say too much publicly about the differences between the two study apps. What can you say? What category of difference is it, if you can’t be specific? Is it related to psychology, for example? Technology? 

A: Both treatments will provide participants science-based information on how to quit, stay motivated to quit, how to deal with cravings, and select medications if desired. What makes them different is their overall psychological approach to quitting. Basically, we are comparing two psychologies for quitting.

Q: This is a study, clearly. But is there any possibility that either of the apps could go to market, or be more widely available, in the future? How might that happen? 

A: There are hundreds of apps available to help people quit smoking. None of them has been scientifically tested in a randomized trial. We want to change that. So we are scientifically comparing two apps to learn which seems to be most helpful to people for quitting. These results will eventually lead to an app we would offer to the public for free. We hope to do that as soon as the science gives us the strong evidence of what works. So the more participants we can recruit into the study now, the clearer the conclusions and the faster our go-to-market time.

Q: When do you expect to share results and reveal which app works best and why?

A: We hope to have the results of this study out to the public in a year or so. The reason it takes a year is that we have to complete recruitment, follow-up our participants in two months, analyze and interpret the data, write it up as an scientific article, go through rigorous peer review at the journal, and then the journal that accepts the article will release the embargo of the results for public viewing. Doing science rigorously is slow, especially since our goal is to give the public something useful.

 Q: You do a lot of research into addiction and its psychology. How would you characterize the status of tobacco addiction in America right now? Has it gone down? Is it stagnant? Why does your study make sense to do today?

A: Tobacco addiction remains this nation’s number one preventable cause of premature death.  An astounding one in five U.S. adults smoke, a rate that has remained stalled for the past decade. A key reason we are stuck is that, besides the drug Chantix, there has been little innovation in approaches to help people quit.  So this study tests a new approach on a new platform—the smartphone. With the exponential rise in smartphone use and the potential of new approaches to help, we hope we can jump start progress in bringing down this nation’s smoking rate by having people reach for their smartphone instead of a pack of cigarettes.

Seen a story that caught your eye re: digital life? Email me at mguzman@seattletimes.com or reach me on Twitter or Facebook.

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