Latest Research
Mobile technology helps explore nicotine addiction
Apr 4, 2012 - 4:00:00 AM

Some people quit smoking on the first try while others have to quit repeatedly. Using such mobile technology as hand-held computers and smartphones, a team of researchers from Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh is trying to find out why.

One thing that really stood out among the relapsers is how their urge to smoke just never dropped, in contrast to those who were successful in quitting for a month -- their urge dropped quickly and systematically -- almost immediately upon quitting, said Stephanie Lanza, scientific director of The Methodology Center at Penn State. That was surprising to see.

With a new statistical model to interpret data and the ability to collect data via mobile devices, the researchers looked at how baseline nicotine dependence and negative emotional states influenced people's urge to smoke while they were trying to quit.

The Centers for Disease Control found in a 2010 National Health Interview Survey of 27,157 adults that about 52 percent of cigarette smokers tried to quit during the year. Six percent of all smokers -- who had been smoking for two years or more -- quit for at least six months. Also in 2010, the CDC reported that even though cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., nearly one in five Americans smokes.

The team found that those who successfully quit during the four-week study period had a weaker association between their urge to smoke and their ability to quit. However, those who were unable to abstain did not show any association between their urge to smoke and their self-confidence.

Saul Shiffman, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, followed 304 long-term cigarette smokers as they tried to quit. On average, the participants smoked more than a pack a day for 23 years. Forty participants quit smoking for the initial 24 hours, but subsequently relapsed. During the two weeks after quitting, 207 participants remained relatively tobacco-free. If smokers relapsed but smoked less than five cigarettes per day, they were considered successful quitters in this study. The remaining 57 participants were unable to quit for even 24 hours.

Five times randomly throughout the day, mobile devices prompted participants to answer questions. These questions asked the smokers about their emotional state, their urge to smoke and if they were smoking. They rated their urge to smoke at that moment on a scale of zero to 10. Using this data collection method, the researchers collected data from subjects in their natural environments.

Researchers followed subjects for two weeks prior to their attempt to quit, and for four weeks after their attempt to quit, the researchers report online in

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