Understanding User Needs is Critical for Developing Smoking Cessation Apps


Applications which utilize social media appear to reduce smoking relapse rates.

Certain key functions and characteristics of mHealth apps that are used for smoking cessation were determined to play a role in how successful they are, according to research published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics.1

Investigators sought to explore how smokers view common functions and characteristics of smoking cessation apps, as no previous studies have focused on this aspect. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Manchester conducted a systematic review of digital literature.

“With the growth of mHealth, in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile apps have been increasingly adopted as an aid to smoking cessation,” the researchers wrote. “Apps can be accessed anytime and anywhere, as long as the user has their phone with them, and can potentially be personalized based on smokers’ preferences and needs.”

The study included literature from 7 digital databases, including Google Scholar, CINAHL Plus, Medline, PsycINFO, EMBASE, IEEE Xplore and the ACM Digital Library. Each individual database was searched using relevant terms, such as “smoking cessation,” “quit smoking” and “reduced tobacco consumption.” In total, 28 studies that were conducted between 2014 and 2022 were included in the review.

Researchers found that the included studies revealed 6 key app functions: education, tracking, social support, compensation, distraction, and reminding. There also were 5 key app characteristics: simplification, personalization, diverse contents formats, interactivity, and privacy and security. The most frequently mentioned functions were tracking and social support, while the most frequently discussed characteristics were simplification and personalization.

Among the included studies, 8 found an increase in smoking cessation rates with the help of mobile apps. The most accepted and utilized functions identified in those studies were audio-visual functions, a quit plan, progress tracking and sharing capabilities. Applications which utilized social media appeared to reduce smoking relapse rates. Additionally, functions which increased app engagement were statistically significant in increasing quitting rates.

Study limitations included the exclusion of grey literature, one included study which did not follow the exclusion criteria, a focus on the apps themselves and not on the context in which they were used, the heterogenous nature of included papers and a lack of assessment of publication bias.

“In addition to informing the design of new smoking cessation apps which better meet smokers’ needs, our findings can also be used as the basis for planning realist evaluation research of specific apps and creating program theories that link behavior change with technology use,” the researchers concluded.

1. Zhang M, Wolters M, O’Connor S, Wang Y, Doi L. Smokers’ user experience of smoking cessation apps: A systematic review. Int J Med Inform. 2023;175:105069. doi:10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2023.105069
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