Most smokers are aware of the detrimental effects of smoking on their health, but kicking the habit can be demanding. On top of the body’s conditioned response to nicotine, smokers who attempt to quit often have difficulty coping with withdrawal symptoms, e.g., irritability, difficulty concentrating, and inability to sleep.
The FDA smoking report states that among 55% of adult smokers who made a quit attempt, only 8% successfully quit in the long term. Since the number of attempts it takes to quit effectively can vary among individuals, smokers can look into enlisting the help of digital solutions to increase their likelihood of quitting success. The following are recent developments in tech and science that can help enhance resilience to smoking-related stressors.
AI-based cessation apps
In the era of smartphones, health-related apps serve as a low-cost and accessible intervention for smokers. These apps can aid in smoking cessation in various ways, such as advice on lifestyle changes, trackers and rewards for quitting milestones, and real-time messages of support whenever the user is dealing with cravings.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can elevate this smoker-led approach towards an app-led interaction. By having users answer preliminary questions about their smoking history, frequency, and patterns, AI can process this data and predict when the user will likely get the urge to smoke. Currently, apps are being developed using ecological momentary assessments (EMA) to also track locations that the user associated with craving levels, rather than solely relying on the self-reporting method.
Smartphone apps can be used with wearable technology for additional features like motion sensors and body signals. From a systematic review that lists smoking detection and quitting technologies, the StopWatch smartwatch-based system requires little to no user input. Instead, its motion features can detect smoking-related actions whenever the hand is raised to the mouth, remains stationary at the mouth, and moves away from the mouth. Despite still being in the prototype phase, the StopWatch has a recall value of 92%, which refers to the rate at which the smartwatch correctly detects smoking events.
Technological advancements have also led to the development of smokeless products for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). As opposed to tobacco-derived nicotine, which has residual impurities, many of these NRT products are tobacco-free and use nicotine that’s synthetically made in a lab. This synthetic nicotine can be found in oral products like the VELO nicotine pouches, which deliver a nicotine hit upon tucking the pouch under your upper lip. Since they come in different nicotine levels (2mg and 4mg), you can adjust the dose depending on your need. Such cessation aids can successfully curb your smoking cravings and prevent relapse.
Using brain stimulation for healing and treatment of mental illness has been widely explored among psychiatric circles after it was found to help stop tremors and seizures. Recently, it has also found its way to smoking cessation research following the investigations on the brain biology of addiction. Biology professor Colleen Hanlon’s use of brain stimulation focuses on disrupting the stop-and-go circuit abnormalities that define addiction, namely the executive control function (top-down) and cravings (bottom-up).
Hanlon is attempting to explore if sending low-intensity electrical jolts to specific brain regions can strengthen the control function and, at the same time, weaken cravings. While this research is still in its infancy stage, it offers a promising future for getting ahead of smoking urges through a noninvasive intervention.
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