Academics Develop Cigbreak Free Mobile App To Stub-Out Smoking

Smokers are set to receive a helping hand to kick the habit thanks to a mobile game designed to encourage cigarette addicts to fight nicotine cravings and stub out cigarettes/

Despite sounding like a spoof app that is all smoke and mirrors, Cigbreak Free was the brainchild of games creation processes lecturer Hope Caton, from Kingston University’s School of Computer Science and Mathematics, and Robert Walton, Professor of Primary Medical Care at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

App to the aid

The idea behind the app is to combine the fun of gaming with educational messages that smokers committing to New Year’ resolutions to kick the habit can tap into when they feel their will power challenged.

Cigbreak Free is similar to a lot of mobile games whereby players progress through level and gain rewards and gold stars, but the academics claims it has some 37 behavioural change techniques, which offer theory-based methods for changing behaviour, selected by QMUL health psychologists.

“Craving is a short-term thing, so if you get a craving at 11am, you can play the game in the warm until it passes, rather than going out into the cold for a cigarette. You’ve also got something to do with your hands other than smoke,” said Caton.

During these craving times when smokers would normally take a cigarette break, they are encouraged to swap a number of virtual cigarettes in the app against a time limit in order to pass through level. The app also tracks how much money they save through not smoking, as well as offer mini games to clear rooms of smoke to reveal a health message.

To some this may seem a little patronising, but such repetitive tasks can break the psychological hold cravings have over smokers.

“Some of the health messages and behaviour change techniques we have used in the game are based on our previous research and include showing players the health consequences of a behaviour, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives,” said Walton.

“We’re essentially trying to ‘gamify’ these messages and techniques as a way of embedding them in a person’s mind, in the hope that they will then be able to quit smoking.”

The app has clearly gained the attention of others as well with it being commissioned for use by the London boroughs on Kingston, Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, and the City of Westminster.

Tech is increasingly being used to tackle medical issues, as seen with the partnership between Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence technology and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Quiz: How much do you know about mobile apps?

Roland Moore-Colyer

As News Editor of Silicon UK, Roland keeps a keen eye on the daily tech news coverage for the site, while also focusing on stories around cyber security, public sector IT, innovation, AI, and gadgets.

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