Stop-Smoking Resolutions: Turn High Tech, High Touch

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NIH-Funded Habit-Breaking Program Delivered In New Tobacco Cessation Method

For about half of America’s 50-million smokers, New Year’s resolutions represent an annual ritual in breaking their enslaving habit. This year a growing number of smokers will reject their usual “tough it out” approach with the nicotine patch or going “cold turkey” in favor of gradual, more personalized quit plans that are computer tailored to their exact smoking patterns.

The new system records every cigarette smoked for a week and builds a unique Quit Plan to match individuals’ smoking patterns. Appropriately named SmokeSignals, the device beeps and signals when users should smoke on the computer-derived schedule.

While most smoking cessation treatments focus solely on the addictive nature of nicotine and ignore the habits that keep smokers hooked, the new behavioral system -- released this year -- electronically delivers tailored plans that are based on time-tested behavior modification principles. The new program is designed to ‘coach’ the smoker though the process of quitting. It claims to focus on disrupting the triggers associated with smoking while it gradually weans the smoker off nicotine over a 6-8 week period.

The system combines a sleek handheld case housing one pack of cigarettes, daily “just in time” e-mailed quit tips, and access to personal progress charts at the website.

In April, the SmokeSignals® system was named to the Top 20 Technologies of the Dept. of Health and Human Services in its annual Steps to a Healthier USA recognitions. National Institutes of Health grants funded its development and testing through six clinical trials. In its most recent study, funded by National Cancer Institute, SmokeSignals achieved a 45% quit rate, approximately twice that of most drug-based smoking cessation treatments.

For many would-be quitters this year, the choice is based on pure economics. A typical over-the-counter nicotine replacement treatment costs approximately $300, while the self-managed SmokeSignals program costs $149 on the internet. The product’s website claims to be “twice as effective at half the cost” of most popular stop-smoking methods.    

Customers report that SmokeSignals provides a ‘mindless, effortless’ approach that appeals to many smokers who, the Centers for Disease Control says, make 5-7 unsuccessful attempts before quitting.

“Breaking habits is what it’s about,” claims the product inventor and company president, Vesta Brue. Early pioneers of the method at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston suggested a key reason for their early success with gradual reduction is conditioned associations. “Smokers automatically light up when in familiar situations associated with smoking,” Brue said.

Other explanations that scientists offered for the success of scheduled, gradual reduction is the fact that behavior change takes time. The latest SmokeSignals study showed participants averaged 5½ weeks when allowed to take as long as needed to reach zero.

Preparation for quitting has shown to improve a smoker’s chances of success. ”Quitting is an overwhelming challenge because of the individual’s deeply ingrained habits, developed over many years. If nicotine addiction were the only issue, quit attempts would be more successful than the 2% annual success rate that American smokers have now,” Brue added.

SmokeSignals is sold largely through corporate wellness programs and through military smoking classes. The company claims several of the Fortune 200 as customers, the U.S. Postal system, 5 military bases, and one insurance provider. The Center for Disease Control calculates that a smoker annually costs society $3,391 more than a non-smoker. “That is why employers are our targets. They know they bear most of those costs in healthcare, absenteeism, and productivity loss.” However, with the New Year, the brand’s management expects massive hits on their website, as individual consumers try again, on their own, to break the habit.

About SmokeSignals

SmokeSignals, is a division of Lifetechniques, Inc., The parent company is a privately held incubator that develops and markets innovative handheld electronic products that help users manage difficult health behaviors. Vesta Brue has been the recipient of 11 NIH grants in 5 years. She owns one patent awarded and one pending for SmokeSignals®.

For information, call (805) 965-9200.

Copyright and trademark notice: SmokeSignals® and Lifetechniques® are trademarks and copyrighted brand names of Lifetechniques, Inc. of Santa Barbara, CA. World rights reserved Ó1998-2005.

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