ursing Professor Joan Bottorff is director of UBC Okanagan’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention. Photo: submitted

UBC Okanagan researchers study success of app for quitting smoking

The study concludes, Crush the Crave has potential but needs tweaking

With the trend of an app for just about everything these days, a team of researchers from several universities, examined the success of a mobile app designed to help young adults quit smoking.

UBC professor Joan Bottorff, director of UBC Okanagan’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, says while there are more than 500 mobile-based programs to help people quit smoking, little is known about the role these apps play in the overall smoking cessation picture.

Crush the Crave is an evidence-based app that has quitting strategies built into it to help avoid succumbing to smoke cravings, explains Bruce Baskerville, one of the app’s developers and a senior research associate with the University of Waterloo.

Related: Hypnotism seminar seeks to help stop smoking

An earlier study of its effectiveness, led by Baskerville and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, involved a randomized controlled trial to determine whether it helped young adults, aged 19 to 29, quit smoking.

Bottorff, a professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing, says while the app worked for some study participants, it didn’t have the results the researchers were hoping for.

“At the end of the day, results showed that the app was feasible for delivering cessation support but was no better than the paper-based self-help guide that participants in the control group were given,” says Bottorff. “It still helped and it’s another alternative method to support smoking cessation. We need different ways to reach people and this is another tool in the toolbox.”

Under the supervision of Bottorff, PhD student Laura Struik completed a qualitative study, investigating young adults’ experiences with using Crush the Crave.

Young adults make up the largest number of people who smoke in Canada. While the national average is 14.6 per cent, Struik says that 19 per cent of people aged 20 to 35 smoke.

Related: Smoking can affect breastfeeding habits: study

“One of the greatest benefits of this app is the great reach potential it has,” says Struik. “The target audience is young adults, and that age group’s use of smartphones is ubiquitous, giving this specific app huge potential. So it is important to understand what worked and didn’t from the perspective of users, to guide future improvements.”

For example, Struik notes that one of the main criticisms was that the social media space in the app led users to protect their identity, largely due to its public status.

“While support for connections with other users was wanted, the way it was offered in the app did not align with young adults’ desire to avoid stigmatization and judgement related to their smoking.”

On a positive note, Struik found that the tracking features in the app proved to be one of the strongest aspects. She also says users appreciated the way the app displayed the health benefits of quitting on the body.

“These benefits were tailored to each individual and displayed via statistics, such as percentage of lung health improved,” Struik says. “Because the impacts of smoking are otherwise invisible, users valued this feature, saying it helped them better understand the connection between smoking and health at their age.”

Related: Smoking exhaust fan causes scene at salon

The innovative approach Struik used in this study provides a new way to share understanding and capitalize on effective platforms that support smoking cessation. The qualitative study was published recently in JMIR mHealth uHealth.

“Regardless of whether these apps remain or not, the effective mechanisms in the app, such as documentation and visibility of quitting benefits, will likely hold their value for this population,” Struik says. “This study contributes to understanding what features have the most promising potential for mobilizing quitting smoking and then helping developers scale up these interventions.”

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