- A new smartphone health app, Cigbreak Free, that uses games to help smokers to quit the habit has been designed.
- This game contains embedded health messages and behavior change techniques, to help promote smoking cessation.
- Some of these behavior changes techniques include showing the player the health consequences of a behavior, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives
A smartphone app that could help smokers to quit has been developed by academics at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Kingston University.
Cigbreak Free works like a regular gaming app, where players can progress through levels and gain rewards completing tasks.
This app incorporates a combination of around 37 behavioral change techniques which are theory-based methods for changing behavior.
The researchers found that very few health apps were using games to help people make positive health changes.
As part of public health smoking cessation services, the app has now been commissioned for use by five London boroughs-Kingston, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets and the City of Westminster.
There are about 9.6 million adult smokers in Great Britain with 20% of men and 17% of women. Smoking prevalence is highest in the 25-34 age group at 24% and lowest among those aged 60 years and above at 11%.
Smoking rates are much higher among the poor.
In 2014, the North East of England had the highest prevalence in smoking at 19.9% while the South East had the lowest prevalence at 16.6%.
How to Play
In the game, players have to swipe a certain number of cigarettes to break them within a time limit.
As the player progresses through levels, the app also allows the users can calculate how much money they are saving.
Professor Robert Walton from QMUL's Blizard Institute said "I was keen to exploit the current trend in gaming to see it could be put to good use and improve people's health."
Embedding Behavior Change Techniques
"Based on our previous research, we selected and embedded health messages and behavior change techniques within the game, to help promote smoking cessation." Walton added.
Some of these behavior changes techniques include showing the player the health consequences of a behavior, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives.
These techniques are so subtly embedded in the game that the player might not realize that it exists.
Games creation processes lecturer Hope Caton from Kingston University said "The good thing about a smartphone gaming app is that you can play it anywhere. 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."
The quick rewarding in the game is a way of giving smokers instant positive feedback.
"When you're trying to quit smoking you don't get much instant feedback except desire. Your health is better but somehow it doesn't have the same effect as being told you're winning or getting a gold star," Ms Caton explained.
The research team will begin a three-month pilot study with app users to evaluate its effectiveness.
The study is published in the British Medical Journal.
- Smoking Statistics - (http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_93.pdf)
- Robert Walton et al. Gamification for health promotion: systematic review of behaviour change techniques in smartphone apps. British Medical Journal; (2016) doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012447