Wearable Technology May Be Future of Smoking Cessation
Wearable technology could help smokers quit in the future, with a new device called SmartStop aiming to produce a revolution in smoking cessation technology.
Smoking has been called the leading preventable cause of death, so any technology with the potential to help people overcome nicotine addiction or reduce the harm associated with smoking requires serious consideration. The aim of SmartStop is to take the core benefits of nicotine replacement therapies—like nicotine patches and gums—but make it easier to comply with treatment requirements by providing an automatic dosing schedule matched to individual smokers’ cravings. The device won’t be available until 2017, but in the future, it may be that a comparable approach could be adapted for other addictions, too.
Due to the widespread nature of smoking and the significant harms associated with it, nicotine addiction is potentially the most damaging one to our society. In 2012, around 42 million adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes (accounting for 18.1 percent of all adults), and as a result increased their risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases and more. Cigarette smoking is responsible for an estimated 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S., and for every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, around 30 more suffer from at least one serious illness related to smoking. Smokers die a decade earlier than nonsmokers, on average.
Nicotine Dose Tailored to the Individual
SmartStop is the newest product to target this excessive morbidity and mortality. Made by Chrono Therapeutics, the device is a piece of wearable technology, comparable to a similar fitness-based wearable device called the Fitbit. SmartStop can be worn on the arm, leg or torso and effectively works like a nicotine patch except with digitally-controlled dosage amounts and timing.
In short, it aims to deliver measured, precise doses of nicotine at times that coincide with an individual smoker’s cravings, producing peak levels of blood nicotine as cravings become stronger and providing a smaller amount the rest of the time. This represents a level of customization impossible to achieve with nicotine patches, which tend to cause a fairly quick spike in blood nicotine that slowly wanes throughout the day.
The device works in concert with a smartphone app, which allows users to set a “wake-up” time—when the device should start working each day—and controls the nicotine delivery. The user simply attaches a cartridge (filled with nicotine in an alcohol and water solution) each day, and the app ensures everything is attached and working as it should be. If the device isn’t in contact with the skin, if the cartridge needs changing or in the event of any other issues, the smartphone will notify the user. If the user has a craving during the day, he or she lets the app know and the regular dose of nicotine will be adjusted. The app will also let users know how much nicotine they’re currently getting and at what times.
The big benefit of the app is that it also provides “digital coaching” to help smokers cope with cravings and overcome their addiction—offering both the needed medicine and the often-neglected psychological support. This sets it apart from many fitness-related pieces of wearable technology, as co-developer Dr. Alan Levy comments, “Our product is like a Fitbit, but a Fitbit that provides therapy.”
SmartStop is designed as a short-term method of quitting, coming equipped with a battery that lasts for about 10 weeks — the standard duration of a quit-smoking program. By starting out with higher doses of nicotine and reducing them over time, the device aims to gradually ease somebody from nicotine dependence into freedom from addiction.
Could Wearable Technology Work for Other Addictions?
One of the major selling points for SmartStop is that it should reduce issues with poor compliance to medication schedules, and the creators have completed proof-of-concept demonstrations with medicines for asthma, depression and ADHD, too. This all points to an interesting possibility: will we see similar wearable devices to help with other addictions?
With the rising prescription drug and heroin epidemic in the U.S., being able to administer a medicine like buprenorphine in this fashion could be a valuable strategy in reducing the damage done by opioid addiction. (Buprenorphine provides those addicted to opioids with a safer replacement to reduce their cravings and withdrawal symptoms, like nicotine patches and gums do for smokers.) The only uncertainty is whether it would be possible: nicotine is fairly unusual in that it can be absorbed through the skin, making the approach easier to implement.
The fact that SmartStop helps with both the physical and psychological components of addiction makes it a very promising development, but it won’t be available for a couple of years. Chrono Therapeutics is planning to file the design for FDA approval in 2016, so 2017 is likely the soonest it will be on general sale. Whether it will deliver the revolution in smoking cessation it promises remains to be seen, but if it’s as good as it sounds, it could become a vital tool in reducing the harm done by nicotine addiction. If it could be adapted for other addictions, the potential benefits may be multiplied exponentially.
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