While strategies ranging from cold turkey to scare tactics and stop-gap solutions like gum abound, smoking remains among the most notoriously difficult habits to kick. That’s why MindCotine, a Redwood City, California-based startup wants to tackle the issue with a novel new technology: virtual reality.
Smoking is more than a physiological need, the Argentina-born cofounders Cristian Waitman, Nicolas Rosencovich and Emilo Goldenhersch say, so their VR program – which launched on Kickstarter this week – brings together mindfulness, biofeedback and other elements of psychological techniques like immersion to help prospective non-smokers change their behavior to change their habit.
“We’re trying to take smokers out of that routine reaction to light a cigarette by having them step back, calm down and focus on that moment. They go through an immersive experience and learn how to identify what they are thinking and feeling when they want to smoke,” Goldenhersch told MobiHealthNews.
Technically speaking, it means an app, a cardboard headset and a growing community of users to act as a support system and research opportunity. Users download the app, which features guided meditation and calming imagery to encourage introspection before going on to an animated smoking experience, complete with sitting down with a cigarette in hand. It’s meant to be used 20 minutes per day along with tools and resources in the app to help deal with nicotine withdrawal systems.
“Everyone who wants to quit isn’t necessarily doing it for the same reasons or the same way, so we want to help people figure out a method that works specifically for them,” said Goldenhersch.
That means improving the AI components of the app over time, and teaming up with organizations who can position MindCotine for use in public health campaigns or for research purposes. The company is actively working with several universities in various countries, including Unversidad Siglo 21 in Argentina and Universidad de la Comunicación in Mexico. But the first goal is to make it widely available to individuals.
“Rather than starting at the top with a major distribution channel or a fund, we’re starting at the bottom and working our way up, so that anyone with a smartphone can use it,” Waitman, who handles the marketing and VR component of MindCotine. “As we build out the community of users we can look into strategic partnerships, investors, agencies, anyone who wants to take part.”
While it’s difficult to imagine someone donning the device and taking deep breaths at a time they would usually smoke, say, at a crowded bar patio surrounded by friends, that’s not the intention. Rather, MindCotine is supposed to be used as a complimentary tool to an active smoking cessation undertaking, whatever that may look like from person to person.
“The most important thing is having a support system, and that’s what we are trying to provide,” said Rosencovich, who developed the software components of MindCotine. “It’s not so much our goal right now to be on the shelves next to cigarettes or even the gum or the patch, but to make it available to as many people as possible so it becomes this global anti-smoking effort.”