Smartphone-Connected Carbon Monoxide Detector Shows Promise in Smoking Cessation Trials


Researchers from the Psychology and Psychiatry departments at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Florida have teamed up with electrical engineers from the University of Michigan to develop a smartphone-based breathalyzer that picks up traces of carbon monoxide. Breath CO analyzers are currently used to confirm non-smoking status of participants in smoking cessation programs. The new device is being fielded as a cheaper, more mobile alternative that could be used to expand the technical capabilities of smoking cessation programs across the country.

Researchers tested the breathalyzer by using it to monitoring the activity of a group of 60 participants over a short period of time. The group consisted of 20 heavy smokers, 20 light smokers, and 20 nonsmokers. Each participant was tested four times, twice using a standard CO breathalyzer, and twice using the newly developed smartphone-based breathalyzer. The study demonstrated that the smartphone-based breathalyzer correlated strongly with the results reported from the traditional CO monitor.

Mobile-based programs have already been shown to more than double the number of smoking cessation enrollees that are still nonsmokers after six weeks. Supplemental CO monitoring, in addition to traditional smoking cessation support and education, has been tied to additional gains in overall success rates.  With an effective smartphone-based CO breathalyzer, researchers hope that they are close to being able to add a new tool to the mobile health toolkit.

A smartphone-based CO breathalyzer would reduce the cost and increase the availability of the device for use in the community. At minimum, this tool would allow other community outreach clinicians, like home health nurses or social workers, to encourage smoking abstinence by spot check patients enrolled in smoking cessation periodically. It would also empower digital health app developers to build rewards-based behavioral apps that were capable of facilitating objective assessments of smoking activity. Rewards-based behavioral apps that allow users to earn gift cards and other prizes for sticking to their goals are growing in popularity within the weight loss app market. The apps rely on integration with activity trackers, readings from on-board accelerometers, and geo-locating to objectively verity that users are going to the gym and getting the exercise they have reported. With a new objective means of monitoring smokers, smoking cessation apps could be next.

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