Efficacy of Smartphone Applications for Smoking Cessation: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Nov 1;180(11):1472-1480. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.4055.


Importance: Smoking is a leading cause of premature death globally. Smartphone applications for smoking cessation are ubiquitous and address barriers to accessing traditional treatments, yet there is limited evidence for their efficacy.

Objective: To determine the efficacy of a smartphone application for smoking cessation based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) vs a National Cancer Institute smoking cessation application based on US clinical practice guidelines (USCPG).

Design, setting, and participants: A 2-group, stratified, double-blind, individually randomized clinical trial was conducted from May 27, 2017, to September 28, 2018, among 2415 adult cigarette smokers (n = 1214 for the ACT-based smoking cessation application group and n = 1201 for the USCPG-based smoking cessation application group) with 3-, 6-, and 12-month postrandomization follow-up. The study was prespecified in the trial protocol. Follow-up data collection started on August 26, 2017, and ended at the last randomized participant's 12-month follow-up survey on December 23, 2019. Data were analyzed from February 25 to April 3, 2020. The primary analysis was performed on a complete-case basis, with intent-to-treat missing as smoking and multiple imputation sensitivity analyses.

Interventions: iCanQuit, an ACT-based smoking cessation application, which taught acceptance of smoking triggers, and the National Cancer Institute QuitGuide, a USCPG-based smoking cessation application, which taught avoidance of smoking triggers.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was self-reported 30-day point prevalence abstinence (PPA) at 12 months after randomization. Secondary outcomes were 7-day PPA at 12 months after randomization, prolonged abstinence, 30-day and 7-day PPA at 3 and 6 months after randomization, missing data imputed with multiple imputation or coded as smoking, and cessation of all tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) at 12 months after randomization.

Results: Participants were 2415 adult cigarette smokers (1700 women [70.4%]; 1666 White individuals [69.0%] and 868 racial/ethnic minorities [35.9%]; mean [SD] age at enrollment, 38.2 [10.9] years) from all 50 US states. The 3-month follow-up data retention rate was 86.7% (2093), the 6-month retention rate was 88.4% (2136), and the 12-month retention rate was 87.2% (2107). For the primary outcome of 30-day PPA at the 12-month follow-up, iCanQuit participants had 1.49 times higher odds of quitting smoking compared with QuitGuide participants (28.2% [293 of 1040] vs 21.1% [225 of 1067]; odds ratio [OR], 1.49; 95% CI, 1.22-1.83; P < .001). Effect sizes were very similar and statistically significant for 7-day PPA at the 12-month follow-up (OR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.12-1.63; P = .002), prolonged abstinence at the 12-month follow-up (OR, 2.00; 95% CI, 1.45-2.76; P < .001), abstinence from all tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) at the 12-month follow-up (OR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.28-1.99; P < .001), 30-day PPA at 3-month follow-up (OR, 2.20; 95% CI, 1.68-2.89; P < .001), 30-day PPA at 6-month follow-up (OR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.63-2.54; P < .001), 7-day PPA at 3-month follow-up (OR, 2.04; 95% CI, 1.64-2.54; P < .001), and 7-day PPA at 6-month follow-up (OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.42-2.10; P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: This trial provides evidence that, compared with a USCPG-based smartphone application, an ACT-based smartphone application was more efficacious for quitting cigarette smoking and thus can be an impactful treatment option.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02724462.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Smartphone*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices / standards*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02724462