Could gaming help you to quit smoking? That’s the promise of a new smartphone app developed by a team of researchers in London.
Designed to stave off cravings, Cigbreak Free tasks users with swiping away as many cigarettes as possible within a time limit.
It also incorporates more than 30 behavioural change techniques, including health messages, to help users quit.
And the researchers report that the app has already helped one person who smoked 25 cigarettes a day to quit altogether.
“People think games are frivolous but we learn a lot through play,” said Hope Caton, the inventor of the app and a games creation process lecturer at Kingston University, in a statement. “The good thing about a smartphone gaming app is that you can play it anywhere.”
“Craving is a short-term thing, so if you get a craving at 11am, you can play the game in the warm until it passes, rather than going out into the cold for a cigarette,” Caton said. “You’ve also got something to do with your hands other than smoke.”
The game, which was a collaboration between Caton and Robert Walton, a professor of primary medical care at Queen Mary’s University of London, is designed to reward users as they play, discouraging them from giving up.
“When you’re trying to quit smoking you don’t get much instant feedback except desire. Your health is better but somehow it doesn’t have the same effect as being told you’re winning or getting a gold star,” Caton added.
While researching the game, the team ran 10 focus groups with 120 people to find out which health messages did and didn’t work.
QMUL’s Professor Walton said: “Some of the health messages and behaviour change techniques we have used in the game are based on our previous research and include showing players the health consequences of a behaviour, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives.”
The app is now being rolled out to residents in a pilot study in five London boroughs, including Kingston, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets and the City of Westminster.
The team now hopes to prove the app’s effectiveness with a wider pool of users and better data.
“The next step for us is to prove quit rates,” Caton said. “We’ve had people smoking 25 cigarettes a day quit, some who’ve gone from 25 to four. It shows it can be effective but we need to get the analytics into the app to get more data and that’s something we’re working on now.”