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Trying to quit smoking? There's an app for that

December 2, 2010 7:09:08 PM PST
Anyone who has quit smoking, or tried to, can tell you how difficult it is to kick the habit. Now one Bay Area hospital is introducing a new piece of technology to make the process easier.

Robert Smith had smoked for more than a decade until a program at San Francisco General Hospital helped him quit. Besides attending classes, Smith charted both his smoking and daily mood swings in a diary provided by doctors.

"And I realized that it was morning time and it was right after dinner... my two main trigger points," he says.

"It sneaks up on you, unless you track it, and that's what our app does," says San Francisco General chief psychologist Ricardo Muñoz, Ph.D., who has just launched a powerful new tool to help patients quit smoking. Instead of the chart that patients like Smith once used, this version is an application based on the iPhone.

"This is the cigarette tracker," explains Muñoz. "As you smoke a cigarette, you can just record it... when you get to say, one pack, the app shows you you smoked a pack."

The next step is designed to provide something like bio-feedback. Muñoz describes a mood tracker where you can enter how you're feeling and view your mood level for the day.

Finally, smokers add in their various activities, such as exercise, to gauge the effect those have on their mood and urge to smoke. The program then graphs the three components.

"The graph page shows you how your number of cigarettes, your mood, and your activity level are related," says Muñoz.

The value of that information became apparent in a clinical trial by UCSF researchers at San Francisco General. They found that smokers who tracked their mood, along with the timing and pattern of their smoking, were twice as likely to quit for good.

San Francisco General's CEO, Susan Currin, says the hospital is on the front lines of the anti-smoking movement, in part because of their patient population.

"Forty percent of our patients smoke, and if we're going to make any dent in decreasing the amount of chronic disease that we have in our community, we have to address the smoking issue," she says.

Smokers can download the app from the iTunes store for about $5 in both English and Spanish.

While Smith didn't have the convenience of the iPhone program, he says understanding the patterns of his former habit has helped keep him smoke-free for two years.

"There are definitely mood swings with it and you do have to track it," he says.

You don't have to be part of the San Francisco General smoking program to download the app. It's also available to the general public for about $5 at the iTunes store here.

For more information on the program, visit telemedicine.ucsf.edu/stop-smoking.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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