Smoking cessation apps don't follow guidelines

By Brian Dolan

Smoking CessationOf the 47 smoking cessation applications available to iPhone users back in June 2009, few if any adhered to the US Public Health Service's 2008 Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this month concluded.

"Apps identified for smoking cessation were found to have low levels of adherence to key guidelines in the index," the researchers included. "Few, if any, apps recommended or linked the user to proven treatments such as pharmacotherapy, counseling, and/or a quitline."

"It is recommended that current apps be revised and future apps be developed around evidence-based practices for smoking cessation," they wrote.

The results from MobiHealthNews' own study of the content of smoking cessation apps in our report Fastest Growing and Most Successful Health & Medical Apps, September 2010 also showed that these apps were using new methods.

As of last fall there were already 44 smoking cessation apps for the iPhone that simply enabled users to track how many times they smoked. The next most popular strategy seemed to be calculators, which typically helped users figure out how much money they had saved since they had stopped or curtailed their smoking. There were also a handful of apps that provided a tracking mechanism along with a calendar, a dozen apps that made use of hypnotherapy, another dozen that used positive affirmations and a handful that only offered information therapy and reference materials.

While the study's abstract certainly points to a number of interesting questions: Should we assume smoking cessation apps will fail if they do not adhere to the efficacy guidelines established in 2008? Or is the smartphone a new platform that might be more effective with new or different tactics?

While understandable in the world of peer-reviewed publishing, it still amazes me that a study of the app offerings available in June 2009 is only now being published. Our study from late August 2010 (more than a year after their study) included more than twice as many smoking cessation apps as theirs. I wouldn't be surprised if the number had almost doubled again by now. These offerings move too fast for that type of publishing cycle.