Pilot studies revealed promising results regarding crushing virtual cigarettes to reduce tobacco addiction. In this study, 91 regular smokers were randomly assigned to two treatment conditions that differ only by the action performed in the virtual environment: crushing virtual cigarettes or grasping virtual balls. All participants also received minimal psychosocial support from nurses during each of 12 visits to the clinic. An affordable virtual reality system was used (eMagin HMD) with a virtual environment created by modifying a 3D game. Results revealed that crushing virtual cigarettes during 4 weekly sessions led to a statistically significant reduction in nicotine addiction (assessed with the Fagerström test), abstinence rate (confirmed with exhaled carbon monoxide), and drop-out rate from the 12-week psychosocial minimal-support treatment program. Increased retention in the program is discussed as a potential explanation for treatment success, and hypotheses are raised about self-efficacy, motivation, and learning.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00639093.