Health App Encourages Calling it Quits

Tech plus mindfulness helps extinguish smoking

By Malia Jacobson

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May 17, 2016

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine.

A half-century ago, in the Marlboro Man’s heyday, nearly half of American adults smoked. Far fewer light up today, but the 20 percent who do face steep odds when they try to quit: According to the American Cancer Society, only 4–7 percent of efforts to quit smoking succeed without medicines or other assistance. Now, there’s an app for that. Last fall, psychologist Jonathan Bricker, Ph.D., of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, received a $3.1 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study SmartQuit, a smoking-cessation smartphone app offered free to Washington residents through the Department of Health (doh.wa.gov).

Bricker is an expert in acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, which SmartQuit employs to help smokers mindfully accept urges to smoke without acting on them. According to the Department of Health, SmartQuit boosts quitting success rates threefold; the NCI grant will fund a randomized, controlled trial to yield greater insight into how this marriage of mindfulness and tech can help more smokers clear the air, for good.

Illustration by Arthur Mount

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